During Hannah’s life, the Lees have never discussed Marilyn’s disappearance, and thus Hannah has no idea that it happened. After Lydia’s death, Hannah feels confused and angry. She wants to ask Lydia what it was like to disappear into the lake. On what would have been her last day of school, Hannah lies awake before sneaking out at 2am, something she’s been planning for weeks. As she creeps across the front lawn, she imagines Lydia doing the same thing and witnessing the same sights of their neighborhood at night. In the distance, she can see the glimmer of the lake. Hannah plans to row out just as Lydia did, but when she gets closer she sees that the boat is gone. She lies down on the dock and looks up at the stars. If everything were normal, she and her siblings would have spent time on the lake; Lydia would cover herself in baby oil and James and Nath would swim. Now, they will never go to the lake again. No one talks about Lydia, and Hannah feels overwhelmed by how little she still understands about her death.
Unable to express her feelings verbally and ignored by her family, Hannah resorts to acting out the thoughts in her mind. In doing so, Hannah physically follows in her sister’s footsteps. In the rest of the book, the notion that children’s destinies are determined by their parents and older siblings is shown in a more metaphorical way, but here it becomes literal. By sneaking out of the house, Hannah continues a secret tradition that began with Marilyn’s escape to Toledo. At different moments and for different reasons, each of the female members of the Lee family have secretly escaped the family home in an attempt to resolve some of life’s most difficult questions.
Back at home, Hannah goes into Lydia’s room and retrieves a broken silver locket. She has promised Lydia she will never wear it, so instead she just rubs it in her hands. The bed still smells like Lydia, and Hannah resolves to come into her room every night. In the morning, the family argues over the fact that the chain is not on the door. Hannah repeats “I’m sorry I’m sorry” in her head, but says nothing aloud. Marilyn insists that Lydia would not have left on her own accord and that “some nutcase” must have kidnapped her. James sighs, wanting to argue that they could not have changed Lydia’s fate with a more securely-locked door; however, he says nothing. In his office, he keeps a copy of the news article about Lydia’s death. It mentions the fact that Lydia and Nath stood out as the only non-white students at school and that few students knew Lydia well. Since then, more and more articles have been published, mostly arguing that Lydia’s death was likely a suicide.
Outside of the Lee family, there seems to be a general consensus over the narrative that Lydia was a socially excluded loner and that her death was likely a suicide. Within the family, however, each person clings to their own wildly different interpretation of what happened to Lydia. Marilyn is desperate to place the blame on an external, irrational factor. Because Lydia was (supposedly) living out the dreams Marilyn had for herself, it is impossible for Marilyn to imagine that Lydia might have been unhappy. James, meanwhile, recognizes Lydia’s loneliness as similar to his own, and thus he believes the interpretation that she committed suicide.
James responds that he doesn’t think a “nutcase” took Lydia. Just then, Officer Fiske arrives, and informs the family that they have spoken to Karen Adler and Lydia’s other friends and that they all “barely knew her.” James flushes with embarrassment as Fiske asks if Lydia was lonely, and cautiously mentions that she did spend a lot of time alone. Marilyn adds that Lydia was hard-working and busy with schoolwork. When Fiske asks if Lydia was unhappy, Marilyn immediately cuts him off, saying that she was “very happy” and “loved school.” She insists that Lydia would not have gone out on the lake by herself and urges the officer to look for the “psycho” who must have kidnapped Lydia. Fiske promises that they are considering “all possibilities” and asks to speak to Nath.
To some extent, James and Marilyn’s understanding of Lydia’s life is quickly unraveling. It is now beyond doubt that their impressions of her social life and friend group were entirely mistaken, and that Lydia must have been lying to them about how she spent her time. However, while James (reluctantly) accepts this fact, Marilyn aggressively clings to the ideas about Lydia’s life that she held prior to her daughter’s death. Even if this means imagining a “psycho” who raped and murdered Lydia, Marilyn still refuses to acknowledge reality.
Nath steps outside with Officer Fiske, thinking that if Lydia had been a “normal” teenage girl the police would have already understood what Nath knows—that Jack is to blame. Nath understands the narrative now emerging about Lydia: that she was lonely, struggling in school, from a strange family. However, he is convinced that this is wrongly obscuring Jack’s role in her death. Fiske explains that he wants to speak to Nath because sometimes siblings understand things in a way that their parents don’t. He asks Nath if Lydia ever snuck out by herself at night, and Nath replies she didn’t. When asked if Lydia got along with her parents, Nath replies that she did. He is shocked by the officer’s question about whether their parents ever hit her and insists that they didn’t, that they “loved her.” Nath likewise denies that Lydia ever spoke of self-harm. However, when Fiske asks if Lydia seemed sad the night she disappeared, Nath thinks of her silence at dinner and suddenly starts to cry.
The conversation between Nath and Officer Fiske again emphasizes the intensity with which people can cling to their own interpretation of events, even in the face of conflicting evidence. Unlike Marilyn, Nath understands the police’s narrative about Lydia, and he is aware of how they interpret the evidence of her life circumstances. However, he is so convinced of Jack’s guilt that he fails to consider whether the police’s version of events might be closer to reality. Furthermore, Nath has a hard time reconciling his knowledge that James and Marilyn adored Lydia with the possibility that they might have had a negative effect on her. Did Lydia benefit from being the favorite child, or suffer because of it?
Inside, Marilyn is furious at James for dismissing her suggestion that a stranger was involved in Lydia’s death. James accuses her of being “hysterical” as a result of watching the news. Meanwhile, Hannah slips under the kitchen table, alarmed by hearing her parents fight for the first time. Marilyn balks at the suggestion that she is a “hysterical housewife” and says that at least she doesn’t “kowtow to the police.” Although Marilyn barely notices, her use of the word “kowtow”—taken from Chinese—strikes James as a humiliating racial insult. James leaves and Marilyn shuts herself in her bedroom. When Nath returns, Hannah explains that their parents have had a fight.
James and Marilyn’s argument makes clear that, as much as they are afflicted by the pain of losing Lydia, they are also suffering from the same insecurities, regrets, and conflicts that have dominated their lives even before having a family together. For James, Lydia’s disappearance and Marilyn’s anger amplifies his existing experience of racial prejudice and exclusion. For Marilyn, it emphasizes the extent to which her life has failed to turn out as she’d originally hoped.
Without verbally agreeing to do so, both Nath and Hannah head to the lake. Meanwhile, James circles the lake in his car, replaying Marilyn’s words in his mind and feeling a sense of responsibility for Lydia’s unhappiness and death. He had planned to tell Louisa that he loves Marilyn and that they must never sleep together again, but instead falls straight into her arms the moment he sees her. In Louisa’s bed, he is finally able to stop running the details of Lydia’s death and its consequences through his mind. Meanwhile, Marilyn paces in Lydia’s room, furiously replaying the conversation with the police in her mind. Lydia always seemed so happy and eager to please. Marilyn thinks back to the night Lydia died and wishes she’d hugged her and never let her go.
It might seem strange that Nath, Hannah, and James are all drawn to the lake, considering it is both the location and cause of Lydia’s death. As a vast and unknowable expanse of water, the lake symbolizes all that the family cannot know about Lydia’s fate. It is therefore significant that while Nath, Hannah, and James choose to go to the lake, Marilyn will not even look at it. While the other family members are more aware of their own unanswered questions, Marilyn refuses to accept that she might be wrong.
Marilyn cradles Lydia’s book bag, inhaling the “precious” smell of school. Suddenly, Marilyn notices that inside the bag are an open pack of Marlboro cigarettes and a box of condoms. She drops the bag, thinking that these items must belong to someone else. However, she remains uncertain, and remembers the police asking her if Lydia had a boyfriend. She resolves to understand everything about Lydia and what happened to her. Meanwhile, by the lake, Nath wonders what happened to Lydia’s body. Suddenly Jack appears on his way back from the high school graduation ceremony. Nath walks over to him, unsure of what he will do. Although he’s never fought anyone, he imagines pinning Jack down and getting him to admit that Lydia’s death was all his fault.
Both Marilyn and Nath are caught up in fantasies about Lydia, her death, and its aftermath. In cradling Lydia’s book bag, Marilyn reaffirms her own image of her daughter as a hard-working, wholesome girl whose future would have involved the realization of Marilyn’s personal ambitions. Meanwhile, Nath has imaginatively positioned himself as a heroic redeemer of Lydia, punishing Jack for the wrongs he supposedly committed against her. In both these fantasies, Lydia is a decidedly passive, innocent victim.
Hannah tries to stop her brother from approaching Jack, and, though Nath resists, she eventually drags him to his knees. Jack glances over and Nath is certain he sees fear in Jack’s eyes. Nath pushes Hannah away, surprised by her strength. Hannah begs her brother not to fight Jack, and she asks why Nath is so angry with Jack. Nath tells her that he knows that Jack was involved with Lydia’s death. He adds that Lydia fell in the lake before Hannah was born, when Nath was only seven. Hannah rests her head on Nath, expecting him to shoo her away, but he doesn’t.
This moment represents a turning point in Nath and Hannah’s ability to communicate with each other. Rather than staying silent and removed as she usually does, Hannah aggressively prevents Nath from approaching Jack. This provokes Nath to open up to her and explain his suspicions about Jack, as well as reveal the long-held secret of the other time Lydia fell in the lake.