Quan is certain Doc can tell he hasn’t been sleeping well. Doc is part of the problem: Quan shouldn’t be receiving an education anymore now that he has his diploma, but Doc still shows up and gives assignments. Apparently Attorney Friedman and Liberty pulled some strings and now, Quan is earning college credit. Doc also wants to set up a tutoring service, and he wants Quan to work for him. Quan suddenly jerks awake when Doc touches his shoulder. Quan looks down at the drool spot in his economics textbook and his eyes fixate on the word “debt.” He wonders why there’s a “b” in it. Maybe it’s for burden. Doc asks what’s going on.
Again, the fact that Attorney Friedman and Liberty have somehow worked it out so that Quan can earn college credit shows just how invested Quan’s support team is in him. They may feel like he’ll be more likely to continue with college once he’s out of prison if he’s already started. It’s also significant that it sounds like Quan has a job lined up for when he gets out. Doc will finally put Quan’s gift for math to good use and give Quan the opportunity to earn and control his own money. With that earning power, the debt Quan is so worried about might not be as much of an issue as Quan fears it will be.
Doc asks if Quan has been talking to Tay. He hasn’t, but he says he has. Quan knows that Doc doesn’t believe it. Dollar signs swirl in Quan’s head, and he’s afraid he’ll cry. He wonders if Doc can tell that Quan is terrified, helpless, and hopeless. He wonders if Doc knows about the odd letter Mama sent, saying that she, Dasia, and Gabe are moving to the suburbs. Doc might know that Liberty turned down a job offer to stay on Quan’s file.
Throughout the novel, when Quan gets scared he clams up. This used to be a defense mechanism that warded off teasing or danger—but now, when Quan evades Doc’s questions, it seems like Quan is afraid of what Doc might offer in the way of help. Quan doesn’t yet trust that his support network will indeed be there to support him when things seem scary or insurmountable.
It’s possible that Doc knows that what’s been keeping Quan awake is the envelope he received with one of Martel’s houses as the return address. It contained a ledger, using the template Quan created. It laid out costs related to Quan’s family, like gas, groceries, medicine, and meals. Thankfully it didn’t mention Dwight, but the ledger still had a total and a one-word note: “Exactum.” This is the note Martel gave clients when he wanted them to pay up and disappear. The number at the bottom is what’s bothering Quan. Because if he owes Martel that kind of money, he must also be in debt to Tay, Attorney Friedman, Liberty, Doc, and Justyce. The ledger makes Quan ask his least favorite questions: why anyone is helping him, why they care, what they want in return, and how he’s supposed to pay them back.
The fact that Martel used the template that Quan created likely makes the notice even more jarring for Quan. It is, in many ways, proof that Quan was once an essential part of the gang—even as it lays out what Quan owes them if he’s to get out. But even though the notice is frightening on its own, it also makes Quan aware of what everyone else has done for him. Because of the way that Quan understands loyalty, he seems to attach a monetary value to what his support team has done for him. And while the novel never reveals whether or not Quan will owe these people money, the novel as a whole does answer his other question. People help Quan because he deserves it—and he can pay them back by accepting their gifts and making the most of them.
For Quan, the worst question is how long will it take for them to realize he’s not a scholar, visionary, or future leader. He’s just a dumb kid who’s deep in debt. He’s not a worthwhile investment. In his head, he hears Tay telling him to flip the script: would he invest in her if their situations were reversed? Quan has to think about it, but he’d still invest. He’d invest time, energy, resources, and belief. He knows now that everyone needs someone to believe in them, no strings attached. With this, Quan realizes that he’d be willing to do for another what everyone is doing for him because it’s the right thing to do. Suddenly, the door flies open. It’s Attorney Friedman, and she asks Quan and Doc to come with her.
Quan is dealing with feelings of worthlessness. This is perhaps unsurprising, given that he’s grown up with few people telling him that he matters. So Tay’s request that he flips the script is important, as it forces Quan to see that he—and other kids like him—is worthy of support, respect, and belief. The novel underscores that every kid who grows up in adverse circumstances can succeed—but they need help, and they need people to believe in them.