Camille’s most recent article, featuring extensive quotes from John Keene and a focus on James Capisi’s overlooked testimony, goes to print. The morning the story comes out, Camille stays in bed as long as she can, ignoring the rising temperature in the bedroom and Gayla’s repeated knocks, anticipating angry phone calls from readers and locals. The first call she gets, though, is from Meredith Wheeler, who complains about being left out of the story. Camille promises to interview Meredith the next time she does a story featuring more voices from Wind Gap. After a pause, Meredith tells Camille that she could tell her a lot of things about the Keenes—things that John would never say.
Camille wants to avoid the effect her article will have on the town, but she cannot. People have opinions about what’s going on and what’s being said—and Meredith Wheeler in particular longs to be painted in a very particular light, so much so that she’s willing to reveal delicate secrets in exchange for Camille’s attention.
Out on the porch, Adora is tending to Amma, who is wrapped in a pink silk comforter and has a damp cloth pressed to her forehead. Adora feeds Amma toast off of a silver platter, which also bears tea and assorted bottles of medicine. As Camille passes by, Adora blames Amma’s fever on Camille’s presence, but Camille simply snickers—she heard Amma downstairs last night drinking and she knows the girl is hungover.
Camille can hardly believe that Adora doesn’t see what’s really going on with Amma—she is almost amused by their codependence, and by Adora’s blindness to Amma’s imperfections.
As Camille walks downtown to where Natalie’s body was found, Richard pulls up alongside her and asks if the euphemistic “source close to the police” in her article was him. He is smiling, and asks Camille to get into the car—he needs a “Wind Gap tour guide,” and offers, in return, to answer three questions, completely and truthfully, off the record. Camille gets in, and Richard fastens her seat belt for her, telling her he has to “keep [her] safe.”
Camille and Richard’s flirtation heightens—as does their ongoing bargain to trade important information with one another in service of their respective careers.
Richard has Camille take him to a series of “secret places” around Wind Gap. In the woods, they hike to an ancient and abandoned one-room schoolhouse near the creek where Ann was found—a high school hangout. As Camille shows Richard around the structure, he asks if she has a boyfriend back in Chicago. She asks whether he has a girlfriend, and he says he doesn’t. He asks Camille if she ever came to the schoolhouse to do bad things in high school, and she admits she did—Richard tells Camille that he wishes, for the first time, he’d gone to high school in Wind Gap. Richard kisses Camille, and she lets him.
Though it seems, at first glance, strange that Camille and Richard are able to develop sexual feelings for one another in the midst of a grisly murder investigation, it does make sense that their attraction to one another is fueled by the air of secrecy and the clandestine bargain they’ve struck.
Camille and Richard continue exploring the woods for the rest of the afternoon, discussing Ann and Natalie’s murders. When Camille asks if John Keene is a suspect, Richard confirms that he fits the profile: plus, he says, John is a teenage boy who has been “weeping it up all over town” when most teenage boys would rather die than cry in public.
Richard believes that because John has been exhibiting a feminine trait in public, there is something off—and perhaps even devious—about him. Richard sees nontraditional gender roles as suspicious—which will come to have an important impact on the investigation as it continues.
Richard drops Camille at home that evening. Her skin is buzzing—earlier, they “got each other off like a couple of schoolkids,” and Camille wonders if she smells like sex as she enters her mother’s house. Adora is sitting on the bottom step drinking amaretto sours, dressed in a pink, puff-sleeved nightgown. She asks Camille to come sit with her, and Camille—feeling a “rattle [of excitement] from childhood” at the thought of time alone with her mother—accepts.
Camille has just embraced her femininity in a new way by connecting sexually with Richard—as she returns home, though, she is confronted with an ultra-feminine image of her mother in a frilly nightie. Thrilled that they might at last be able to connect, Camille jumps at the chance for her mother’s attention.
As Camille sits down, Adora says that she has “finally” realized why she doesn’t—and has never—loved Camille: Camille reminds her of her own mother, Joya, who never loved her. Camille insists that she always loved Adora—Adora was the one who never liked her. Adora insists that Camille was willful and spiteful as a child, always disobedient. Adora admits that she wonders why Marian had to die and not Camille.
Camille feels her rage “flatten” into despair and admits that she’s “not so pleased” to be alive either. When Adora calls Camille “hateful,” Camille retorts that she learned at Adora’s feet. Adora lunges for Camille, reaches behind her back, and touches the last spot bare of any scars. Adora tells Camille that one day she will “carve [her] name there” before releasing Camille and escaping upstairs.
Adora’s rage escalates and turns to violence when Camille indicts Adora’s performance as a mother. Adora will not have her control and supremacy within her own house questioned, and she threatens to physically harm Camille, if need be, to show her who’s boss.
Camille finishes off her mother’s amaretto sour and heads off to bed where she has disturbing dreams. She wakes the next day past noon feeling ill; she vomits, and then takes a bath. She feels her skin stinging, and worries for a moment that Adora has gotten to her—when she touches her back, however, it is still smooth.
Camille’s disturbing dreams about Adora blur reality—Camille is so terrified of Adora that she is frightened, for a moment, that her mother has victimized her in the night.
Camille heads over to Meredith’s house, but Meredith isn’t there at all. Instead, she finds Amma and her friends lounging by the pool. Camille hides herself and watches Amma rub sunscreen lasciviously over her body while John Keene, sitting in the shade at the other end of the pool, watches her. When Amma calls John out for staring at her, John replies that he “like[s] to keep an eye” on Amma.
John’s comment to Amma could be interpreted as strange or even predatory—but as the novel unfolds, his motives for “keep[ing] an eye” on Amma will be made startlingly clear.
Camille decides to announce her presence and enters the pool area with a hello. She asks for Meredith, and John says she’s gone to the store to buy sugar. Camille asks John, quietly, how he’s doing, and when he replies that he’s not doing very well, she suggests he see a counselor. Amma, having overheard, agrees that he should—before any more little girls show up without their teeth. Amma slips into the pool, and John walks away into the carriage house. When Amma comes up from under the water, Camille asks why she’s being so cruel. Amma looks caught off-guard and admits that she doesn’t know. Meredith appears at the door and calls Camille inside.
Amma seems to delight in tormenting John—in tormenting anyone, really—but the second Camille calls her out, Amma is visibly confused and shaken. Amma has been allowed to rule her friend group, and seemingly the town, with no one questioning her—Camille changes all that, leaving Amma uncertain and vulnerable.
Meredith—in a perfect outfit and hairdo—swans around the house, getting things ready for Camille and apologizing for the girls’ behavior. Before Meredith is really ready, Camille starts her tape recorder and asks about the gossip around town concerning John, and why people might think he’s responsible for the murders. Meredith says she believes John is innocent, and all of the claims against him are “idle gossip.” When Camille asks Meredith to tell her more about the girls, Meredith delivers a clearly-rehearsed line about the “darling” girls being “plucked from Wind Gap” by God himself.
Meredith has carefully rehearsed her answers to Camille’s questions—she wants to appear perfect, and in doing so to clear both her and John’s name from public suspicion. Meredith adapts traditional, accepted modes of femininity in order to make herself seem of unimpeachable character.
Camille calls Meredith out for lying, but Meredith confesses that John would hate her if she told Camille the truth. Meredith attempts to bargain with Camille about which quotes from her are used in Camille’s next article, and it becomes clear that Meredith—just like Amma—simply wants attention. When Camille threatens to leave Meredith’s quotes out of the article, Meredith decides to pony up and tell the truth: she thinks she knows why the girls’ teeth were pulled.
Meredith wants to steer the truth in her and John’s favor—but is willing to compromise when Camille threatens to pull focus away from Meredith altogether. Meredith would do anything for attention—seemingly a compulsion among the women of Wind Gap.
Meredith reveals that both girls were biters—they had serious tempers, but rather than hitting, they bit. Meredith holds out her right hand and shows Camille a scar, which she alleges is from Natalie. She then pulls her hair away from her left earlobe to reveal that it is completely mangled—when Meredith slept over in the guest room at the Keene house one night, she woke up to find herself covered in blood, with her ear “on fire” and Natalie leaning over her, screaming.
Meredith’s story seems to confirm that the girls’ teeth were taken by someone who was a victim of their biting—the fact that she shares this information with Camille rather than police gives Camille a one-up on the investigation and a vital piece of information.
Camille asks if Ann was as bad as Natalie, and Meredith replies that Ann was even worse. There are people all over town with Ann’s bite marks on them—Adora included. Camille is shocked. Meredith explains that when Ann didn’t understand something Adora was teaching her in their tutoring, Ann “completely lost it,” pulling chunks of Adora’s hair out and biting her on the wrist so hard Adora needed stitches. Camille imagines, on her mother’s wrist, “a little circle of jagged lines, and within, a ring of perfect skin.”
Camille is horrified and intrigued by the revelation that Adora was a victim of Ann’s temper—and her teeth. The idea planted by Vickery—that someone in town might have murdered the girls in retribution for their unruly ways—meshes with Meredith’s account in a cacophony of terror, and Camille begins to suspect the worst—that her mother could have killed the girls.