The first morning of October is a Monday, and Bronwyn is going about her usual morning routine; what’s different this morning, though, is that at 7:30 A.M., she has a meeting with her lawyer, Robin Stafford, a highly successful criminal defense attorney. Robin sits down with Bronwyn and begins giving her some advice for how to “handle school.” She tells Bronwyn that the investigators probably don’t think she and her classmates murdered Simon—they just wanted to shock and pressure them into revealing useful information. Robin advises Bronwyn to tell anyone who asks about the case that she’s retained counsel and can’t discuss it without her lawyer present; Bronwyn is overwhelmed by the new way she has to navigate her life at school.
This passage contrasts Bronwyn’s regular morning with routine with the decidedly un-routine happenings in her ‘new” life—she has to approach even a basic day at school with a full-on battle plan and a whole set of defense mechanisms for interacting with her friends and classmates. Things are very different for Bronwyn than they were just a short time ago.
Robin asks Bronwyn if she is friendly with any of the other students who were in detention that day, and Bronwyn says she isn’t. Bronwyn’s mother interjects to mention that Nate Macauley has been to the house three times in a week. Robin is intrigued by this, and asks what Bronwyn’s relationship with Nate is; the question flusters Bronwyn, who doesn’t even know how she feels about Nate. She tells Robin that though she doesn’t know Nate very well, it’s comforting for her to be around someone who’s going through the same thing she is. Robin suggests Bronwyn think about “maintaining distance” from the other students—she advises Bronwyn against texting or emailing them, as this could give police further ammunition for their theories.
In this passage, Robin explains to Bronwyn how even innocent attempts to foster new connections made in perfectly good faith can be weaponized against her by the investigators. Bronwyn has just barely begun to break out of her shell and expand her perceptions and her social circle, and is already being told that doing so may have potentially dangerous consequences not just for her but for any of the other three students from detention she chooses to engage.
At school, there’s only one person Bronwyn wants to talk to, but he’s the one person she is supposed to stay away from. She spots Nate in the hallway, but he quickly ducks into a stairwell; she follows and apologizes for her father’s behavior the previous night. Both of them admit that there’s more they want to talk about, but Nate intuits that Bronwyn isn’t supposed to talk to him. He reaches into his bag and pulls out a flip phone—a burner. He explains that no one but him has the number, and they can use it to communicate undetected. He warns Bronwyn not to leave it lying around, though—burner phones are tough to trace, but if the police get a warrant for her technology, they can confiscate the phone. Bronwyn knows she should drop the phone straight in the trash, but she puts it into her backpack.
Despite her lawyer’s advice, Bronwyn feels herself helplessly pulled towards Nate. They conspire to find a way to connect against all odds—they use an antiquated tool of technology in order to do so, realizing how destructive, observable, and volatile more contemporary modes of communication are.
The narrative switches over to Cooper’s point of view. Even though the atmosphere at school is tense, it’s nowhere near as bad as things are at home, and Cooper is relieved to be there. After gym class, Cooper witnesses Jake punching TJ in the face; Cooper realizes that the part of Simon’s About That column concerning Addy must be true. At lunch, Addy sits with Cooper, Keely, and the rest of their usual friend group, but everyone has caught on to what must have happened, and no one will talk to Addy except for Cooper.
As Cooper examines the slowly shifting landscape of his social atmosphere, he realizes that while he dodged a bullet, Addy was not so lucky; she is now forced to deal with being emotionally outcast, and though Cooper does his best to keep her afloat, he realizes that the mechanisms of gossip and popularity that govern their school will soon take over.
Keely asks Cooper if she can look at a picture on his phone and show it to one of her other friends; they are trying to plan their Halloween costumes. Cooper reluctantly hands his phone over, but as Keely shows her friend Vanessa the picture, it starts to ring. Vanessa asks who Kris is—it’s the name that has popped up on caller ID. Cooper insists it’s just a guy from baseball, but Vanessa is suspicious of a guy who spells “Chris” with a K. Cooper quickly takes his phone back and insists he’ll call his friend back later, then switches the topic over to Halloween.
This passage shows that Cooper is still hiding something—and what he’s hiding is a personal connection with an individual it’s clear he isn’t supposed to be connected to. He narrowly avoids being discovered in this scene, but still feels the threat of his secrets being exposed even as he deftly changes the subject. It’s clear that Cooper has had some practice in keeping this secret under wraps.
After the last bell, Cooper is about to head home, but his coach corners him in the hallway, wanting to talk about the scholarship offers pouring in from schools all over the country for Cooper. Cooper doesn’t have time to talk draft strategy, though—he has a meeting with a lawyer. On his way down the hall, Cooper runs into Mr. Avery, who is struggling with a heavy box. He offers Avery his help, but when Avery sees Cooper’s phone in his hand, he disdainfully denies his offer. Avery condemns Cooper—and all the other students at Bayview—for being obsessed with “their screens” and their gossip, and then departs down the hall. Cooper is almost home when his phone goes off—this time, it’s his mother, texting him to tell him that his grandmother, Nonny, has had a heart attack and urging him to come to the hospital.
Even an innocuous offer to help Mr. Avery is met with disdain and resentment as soon as Avery sees a phone in Cooper’s hand. This passage serves to imply that Avery’s hatred of all things social media is perhaps not just an odd quirk or a teaching method, but perhaps a pathological or suspicious flaw. On the other hand, given how screens and social media have wrecked—and stand to further destroy—the lives of Cooper and his friends, perhaps Avery’s stance isn’t so far-fetched after all.