Melinda is playing the part of a “good girl,” going to class and even paying attention. She even admits that it “feels good” to understand her teachers. Her guidance counselor convinces her parents that she needs a reward, and so her mother takes her shopping.
Although Melinda believes that she is simply keeping up appearances by going to classes, a bit of her intelligence and drive peeks through; goofing off in class isn’t something she does because she enjoys it, but rather because she feels the need to defend herself.
Rather than go to the mall together (an activity that they both hate), Melinda’s mother decides that her daughter will take the bus to her store, Effert’s, to shop. As Melinda waits, a blizzard begins, pelting her with snow and ice. Mr. Freeman pulls up and offers her a ride, even mentioning that he’d love to meet her mother, but dropping the idea when he sees Melinda’s “eyes widen in fear.” As she begins to thaw and melt, he praises her Cubist sketch and the “growth” in her work. Melinda, however, believes that her “trees suck.” He responds that she is too hard on herself, and Melinda actually replies back, saying that she cannot put emotion into her art because she doesn’t know what to feel. He tells her that next time she draws a tree she should think about emotion rather than trees. He says that it is necessary for people to express themselves, or else end up dead inside. Throughout the ride, they pass roadkill several times.
The conversation that Melinda has with Mr. Freeman is a pivotal moment within the novel. As she feels herself physically thawing, Melinda begins to thaw emotionally as well. Almost unintentionally, she is able to verbally express to Mr. Freeman her feeling of being lost, and her own emotional confusion. Mr. Freeman, meanwhile, continues to emphasize that she can express herself in non-verbal ways. He warns Melinda against becoming dead inside, and the multiple dead animals that they pass on the road only serve to emphasize the dangers of death and oblivion.
As they approach Effert’s, Melinda chews a scab on her thumb. She thanks Mr. Freeman awkwardly, and he responds by telling her that she can talk to him whenever she needs. As she leaves, he tells her, “I think you have a lot to say. I’d like to hear it.” She doesn’t respond.
Of all the adults in Melinda’s life, only Mr. Freeman maintains faith in her. He wants her to confide in him, but will not push her to do so. Even this gentle prodding, however, makes Melinda skittish and defensive again.