The only time Quan has ever felt as scared as he was the night the cops took Daddy was during his own first arrest. He’s 13 and mad for no reason, but this isn’t unusual. Sometimes, the rage just overtakes him. He’s not violent like his classmate DeMarcus. Instead, he deals with his anger by stealing small things, like pencils or lip balm. On this day, Quan goes into a recently remodeled convenience store. He’s drawn to a display of things like Pez, marbles, and pipes. A deck of cards catches his eye. He pockets the cards, uses the restroom, and heads for the doors. But the clerk—who’s brown, but not Black—stops Quan. He says he’s calling the police and makes sure Quan can see his hand on a gun.
It’s significant that Quan isn’t violent and turns instead to petty theft to deal with his negative emotions. This detail helps flesh him out as a non-threatening person; he’s just scared, in a tough spot, and dealing with his emotions in an inappropriate way. So when the clerk shows 13-year-old Quan a gun and threatens to call the police, the book frames this is an overreaction. The clerk seems to expect Quan—who has darker skin—to be violent and dangerous, and so escalates the situation.
Later, Quan realizes the remodel included an upgraded security system, so the clerk saw the whole thing. But the cards don’t seem like such a big deal. They only cost $2.99, and Quan would gladly put them back and agree to never return. It seems excessive that the clerk would call the cops over this, so Quan’s rage expands. He tries not to cry and starts to say that he can put the cards back, but then the cop arrives. The cop is huge. As Quan meets the cop’s eyes, his chest locks up and he remembers the night Daddy was arrested. Quan can’t answer when the cop demands Quan answer his questions, and the cop thinks Quan is being defiant.
By emphasizing the cards’ insignificance, the book underscores that the treatment Quan receives is ridiculous and inhumane. He’s a kid who made what seems like a small mistake—and his inner monologue reveals that he’d readily set things right if given the opportunity. But instead of giving Quan the opportunity to apologize and put the cards back, the cop intimidates Quan and treats him like an adult—all while making it even clearer that Quan is just a scared little kid.
Quan can breathe again when the cop grabs his upper arm. It hurts, and Quan screams. The cop drags Quan out forcefully, even though Quan isn’t resisting. In his mind, Quan sees Daddy go limp as the cop cuffs him. Quan wets his pants and begins to cry. He knows Mama will be upset and Dwight will be impossible. Quan also wants to set a better example for Gabe. The cop asks Quan why he’s crying and says he’s not so tough now. When Quan blurts that it was just a deck of cards, the cop says it’ll be a lady’s purse tomorrow.
The cop is under the impression that stealing something little now means that Quan will inevitably move on to more valuable things in due course. In this sense, he assumes that Quan is stealing with nefarious intent—not just because he’s mad and wants to feel like he can control something. And because Quan doesn’t get the opportunity to put things right by just giving the cards back, he knows that things are going to get even worse at home.
Quan sits alone in an interrogation room for two hours. He’s not sure how he got here or what he’s supposed to do. Will he go to jail, like Daddy did? It was just a deck of cards, but it seems like things are stacked against him. When he did well in school, he was accused of cheating. His very best is never good enough.
Quan’s inner monologue again shows that he’s just a frightened child, thus implying that he shouldn’t be treated as an adult by law enforcement. This moment is precisely when Quan starts to give up. No matter what he does or how hard he tries, he’ll never be good enough.
Quan knows that no matter how much Dwight hurts Mama, she won’t kick him out. He doesn’t understand why, but he does know that telling someone about the abuse won’t help. Quan would probably end up with a random relative of Daddy’s, and Quan isn’t sure if Dwight even has family to take in Dasia and Gabe. He’s sure that Aunt Tiff won’t want them. It seems like there’s nothing he can do. Dwight has been calling Quan “Delinquent Junior” for years now, and Quan wonders if that’s who he really is. Maybe Daddy and Ms. Mays were wrong, and there’s no way out.
Quan still feels powerless to understand or change his circumstances. At this age and from such a close perspective, he doesn’t understand that there are many reasons why abuse victims can’t or don’t leave their abusers (e.g., it may put the entire family at risk of more violence or even death). But what he does understand is that he’s powerless. Now that he’s been arrested. He seems to be the delinquent that Dwight says he is, and he has no way of refuting that anymore.
Finally, the door opens and Mama leans in. She says, “Let’s go” and nothing else. In the lobby, while they wait for Quan’s belongings, cops bring a dark boy in kicking and screaming. He’s only a year or two older than Quan and when he notices Quan, he says hi. Quan recognizes the boy, but can’t remember if his name is Dre or Trey. He remembers finding this boy in the rocket ship, counting money as another guy ran away one of the last times he took Dasia and Gabe to the playground.
It’s telling that as Stone describes Quan and this other boy, she refers to them both as boys. The other boy might be older and in trouble—but he’s still a boy, not an adult man. With this, she reminds readers that most of the novel’s characters are children and should be treated as such. They may be involved in illicit activities (like the deal that seems to have happened in the rocket ship), but the fact that this happens in the rocket ship at all—at a children’s playground—drives home their youth.