During Lizet’s last few days in Miami before returning to Rawlings, Ariel’s uncle sues for temporary custody in hopes of becoming Ariel’s legal guardian. On the day of her flight back to school, Lizet wakes up to a note from Lourdes stating that someone else will have to take Lizet to the airport while Lourdes attends another rally. Lizet lands back in New York to the news that Ariel’s uncle’s petition has been approved while the courts sort the legalities of the case out.
Once again, Lourdes drops everything—even her family—to run off and participate in rallies on Ariel’s behalf. This betrayal is hardly newsworthy anymore though, and Lizet seems to barely even care that her mother has once again abandoned her for Ariel and his family.
As Lizet readjusts to life at Rawlings, she hears snippets on the news all over campus about the Ariel Hernandez case. Lizet doesn’t pay much attention to the reports; she senses that the legal battle ahead of Ariel’s family is a long one, and she doesn’t even want to know the truth of what’s happening. The first week back on campus, though, Lizet finds that many of her friends and dormmates want to know her opinion on the case—she answers them all by shrugging off their questions, much to their dismay. An RA even comes to Lizet and Jillian’s door to offer Lizet “support”; Lizet angrily insists that nothing’s going on with her, and that her family has not been affected by Ariel’s case in the least. Lizet keeps feigning disinterest, as she does not want her peers’ assumptions about her proven right.
Lizet is caught up in a slew of competing feelings. She doesn’t want to be inundated with information about the Ariel case, as the truth is that it does affect her; however, when others assume that she is more affected than others simply because she’s Cuban or because she’s from Miami, she grows defensive, and tries to downplay her feelings and involvement so as not to be stereotyped.
Meanwhile, Lizet is excited to begin classes again; her schedule, packed with biology, calculus, Spanish, and a laboratory class, piques her interest. On the first day of classes, Lizet arrives at the laboratory where her practical lab class will take place. The class is small—only twelve students—and is led by a professor named Dr. Kaufmann, a German biophysicist who is world-renowned for her work in population ecology.
Liz sees her new semester at Rawlings as a chance to start over and forget the mistakes of last semester; she is relieved for the chance to begin anew and is happy not to have to take remedial classes.
Dr. Kaufmann teaches her students how to keep a lab notebook. Meticulously writing in pen and never erasing or obscuring any old work is essential, she says—the mistakes must all be on the page, as mistakes are “vital to every scientist’s process.” Lizet writes this sentence down and thinks hard about it. She finds herself touched by the forgiveness “built into” research philosophy; she feels her first semester, and all the struggles she faced during it, have been validated.
Lizet is profoundly touched by the metaphor the lab notebooks represent: she should not overlook or avoid her past mistakes, but rather accept those mistakes as a part of the larger “experiment” and learning experience of her life.
Dr. Kaufmann spends the second part of class teaching her students the correct technique for sterile handling of lab equipment and specimens. Towards the end of class, she surprises the class with their very first exam: each student must demonstrate their sterile technique. Lizet, whose name is towards the end of the alphabet, nervously watches as her classmates struggle and make errors in their technique. When Lizet is up, though, she passes the test with flying colors, and Dr. Kaufmann compliments her on her extraordinary technique and attention to detail. Lizet feels proud of herself, and energized by both her success in class and the exciting prospect of doing real laboratory work all semester.
Lizet, who became used to struggling all by herself and having to work overtime just to stay afloat last semester, is pleasantly surprised by how at home she feels in the lab, and how kind Professor Kaufmann is. She has found something at Rawlings that she is truly good at, and this knowledge fills her with a familiar but elusive sense of pride and accomplishment.
After visiting the library to pick up her work-study schedule, Lizet runs into Ethan, who admits he’s been looking for her everywhere. They decide to get lunch and catch up at a bar off-campus. When they sit down, Ethan asks how Lizet’s time in Miami was. Thinking that he’s trying to find a way to bring up the Ariel Hernandez case, Lizet responds with suspicion, and Ethan mocks her for being so guarded. The two banter back and forth, and soon Ethan notices Lizet’s pre-engagement ring.
Every time Lizet assumes the worst about Ethan, he proves her wrong—he is always genuinely interested in what she has to say, and never acts predatorily or cruelly towards her. Lizet has been treated poorly by many of her peers here, and has gotten used to being defensive, suspicious, and thus isolated from others.
Lizet, wanting to “protect” both Ethan and herself, decides to rework the truth. She moves her ring over to her other hand and states that her mother bought her the ring for Christmas—Ethan seems relieved, at the very least, to learn that Lizet was just “joking” about her engagement. When Ethan comments on the extravagance of receiving a diamond ring for Christmas, Lizet realizes that Ethan still has the wrong idea about her—first from Jillian’s fancy mittens, and now from the ring.
Lizet finds herself mirroring her mother’s questionable behavior by lying to create a more convenient truth. Doing so backfires, though—she realizes that she is continuing to give Ethan the idea that she is wealthy and supported, when really she is neither.
As they eat their lunch, Ethan tells Lizet about a program he runs on campus—a standing study group called Happy Hours, which functions around the premise that for each hour of work a student puts in, they are allowed to order one beer at the bar after the study portion of the evening is over. Ethan invites Lizet to join the group, even though she’s underage and won’t be able to participate in the bar portion of the hangout. As the meal wraps up, Lizet asks if it’s nerdy for her to go to Professor Kaufmann’s office hours on the first day of classes, but Ethan excitedly encourages her to go talk to Kaufmann right away—and to attend Happy Hours later that week.
Just as he did last semester, Ethan continues encouraging Lizet to take advantage of everything she can on campus—study hard, make friends, explore all of the available resources, and meet with her teachers. He seems genuinely invested in Lizet’s well-being, and his belief in her bolsters her own confidence in her ability to succeed at Rawlings after all.
At Professor Kaufmann’s office, Lizet bonds with her new teacher over their shared love of the ocean. Though Kaufmann begins talking excitedly and rapidly about her own research and Lizet is barely able to keep up, she finds herself comforted by her teacher’s enthusiasm and kindness, and she is excited for the semester to come.
Lizet, who was nervous about the start of this semester after how dicey things got last semester, feels a little less lonely when she realizes that she has found a kindred spirit in Dr. Kaufmann—or at least someone who is kind and open.