A year to the day after Susie’s death, the doorbell at the Singh house rings, and Ruana answers the door. Ruth is there, holding a sack of groceries. She asks if Ray is home, and Ruana tells her to go up the stairs to Ray’s room. Ruth and Ray were recently discovered kissing at the shot-put circle, but their classmates do not understand that the two are not a couple—they were merely conducting an experiment. After the kiss—Ruth’s first—she announced that she didn’t feel anything, and Ray admitted the same. Ruth asked Ray if he felt something when he kissed Susie, and he said that he did. Ruth offered a bargain: in the future, during their kissing sessions, Ray could pretend she was Susie if she could pretend the same.
Sebold demonstrates in a number of ways how Ray and Ruth’s mutual obsession with Susie has not only brought them closer together, but has allowed each of them to obtain a deeper understanding of their own selves. Ruth and Ray both desire Susie physically and emotionally. Ruth is attempting to understand her own sexuality, and also wants to “live inside” the bodies and lives of women, whereas Ray longs romantically and sexually for Susie—the arrangement they have made in which they each pretend the other is Susie allows them to transform their desires into fantasies and thus, in a way, make them a little more real.
When Ruth walks into Ray’s bedroom, he is dancing to a Jethro Tull record. He stops dancing as soon as he sees her. Ruth notices that one of her own drawings of Susie is hanging on Ray’s wall. She tells Ray that she has bought candles at the grocery store and wants to go to the cornfield and light them to commemorate a year since Susie’s death. Ray is hesitant, and Ruth offers to kiss him for a while if he wants—Ray agrees. He has begun to like Ruth and harbor feelings for her, though he has not told her. As they begin kissing, Ruth breaks away, and admits fretfully that she, too, feels something for him at last.
Ray and Ruth have been exploring their sexuality and their grief together, hand in hand. Now, on the anniversary of Susie’s death, they experience the realization that their private figuring-out of what Susie means to each of them has actually brought them closer together, and made them desirous of one another’s company independently of their shared grief over and fascination with their mutual friend.
Ruth and Ray arrive at the cornfield. They hold hands in silence, and are surprised to find that they are not the only ones there—Hal and Samuel Heckler are there too. A bunch of yellow daffodils are on the ground, and when Ruth asks if the boys brought them, Hal says that they were already there when the two of them arrived. Several neighbors soon arrive as well, and a makeshift gathering begins.
Ruth and Ray have at times felt isolated in their private and shared obsessions with Susie. They are surprised to find, when they arrive at the cornfield to honor her, that they are not alone in their lasting grief—everyone in the neighborhood is, in some way, still clinging to their memories of Susie and their horror at her death.
Lindsey, at home in the living room, looks out the window and sees a stream of neighbors heading for the field. She tells Abigail that something is going on, but Abigail says she is “not interested.” For weeks, Lindsey has been trying to break through the wall her mother has put up, but it is becoming more and more frustrating.
Lindsey cannot get through to Abigail, who has more or less shut down the part of herself that expressed grief for Susie. Abigail is uninterested in mourning her daughter any longer, and instead has become cold and removed from the rest of her still-grieving family.
By the time darkness falls, a large crowd has gathered for a candlelit vigil at the cornfield. Rumors of Mr. Harvey’s flight—and thus his suspected guilt—have begun to ripple through the neighborhood, but no one has asked the Salmons about what they do or do not know. The memorial, Susie realizes, is as much for her as it is for the community, who are coming together in the horrific knowledge that “a murderer had lived among them.” Susie buzzes with energy as she watches the gathering crowd, but notices that no one has knocked on her family’s door or let them know about the vigil. There is an “impenetrable barrier” around their home, still—her murder has painted the Salmons’ front door a “blood red” and marked it as unapproachable.
In this passage, Susie sees how deeply her murder has affected not just her family but her entire neighborhood. Though everyone mourns her loss, there is also an undercurrent of shame and confusion beneath that grief. Her neighbors were blind to the presence of a violent murderer in their midst, and they mourn their own ignorance and simultaneously give thanks for their own safety just as much as they grieve Susie.
Inside the house, Lindsey continues urging Abigail to take part in the vigil. Abigail insists that their family has already had Susie’s memorial, and says, “That’s done for me.” Lindsey asks her what she means by “that”—Abigail explains that she doesn’t believe Susie is “waiting out there,” and that there are other, better ways of honoring Susie’s memory. Abigail confesses that she wants to be more than a mother, and Lindsey understands this—she herself wants to be “more than a girl.” Lindsey asks Abigail if she is going to leave them. Abigail hesitates, and then lies, promising Lindsey that she will not leave.
Abigail has done everything she can to shut down the part of herself that still grieves Susie’s loss. She does not want to spend any more time thinking about the daughter she lost—she wants to move onto other things. She does not want her life to become defined by Susie’s death. Lindsey empathizes with this, but also sees it as a warning sign that her mother is preparing to pull away drastically.
Jack’s car pulls into the driveway. Lindsey meets Jack in the mud room and asks him if he wants to go to the vigil; he does. Buckley rushes into the mudroom, and Jack wonders if it is appropriate to bring Buckley along. Lindsey tells Jack that she is sick of protecting Buckley. She explains to him that there is a party for Susie, and that the three of them are going to go. Buckley tells Lindsey that Susie comes to talk to him and spend time with him; Lindsey does not know what to say.
The Salmons have shielded Buckley from much of the fallout of Susie’s loss. As Jack and Lindsey make the decision to offer him the chance to go to her memorial—though they’re still unclear how much about Susie’ death Buckley is aware of—they realize that he knows more than he lets on, and is possibly even in direct communication with the spirit of his dead sister.
As Jack, Lindsey, and Buckley approach the field, Jack becomes emotional. He wants Susie to live on in the minds and hearts of everyone, but he also realizes that this vigil symbolizes everyone saying goodbye to Susie and letting her go—Susie, looking down from heaven, realizes this too. Ruth sees the Salmons approaching, and nudges Ray to go help them into the circle. Ray and Samuel welcome the Salmons into the fold together, and as Jack joins the mourners, he realizes how loved Susie had been. Together, the Salmons join their neighbors in mournful song.
Jack and Susie are united by their twin desires to have Susie live on forever. Neither of them is prepared to watch her memory fade into obscurity, so this makes the memorial, for both of them, more of a threat than a comfort. Though Jack joins the memorial and does take some peace and solace in it, Susie’s observation from above is tinged with fear and anxiety.
Susie remembers one summer night, years ago, listening to one of their neighbors sing Irish ballads on his porch as a thunderstorm approached. Susie loved to dance in the rain, and though her mother always warned her she would “catch [her] death,” that night, Abigail watched Susie spin in the rain and remarked that she looked “invincible.” Susie turned to her and answered simply: “I am.”
In this flashback, Susie remembers a time when she truly believed she was invincible. She thought that life was forever and did not realize how precious and fleeting her time on Earth was. As Susie watches her memorial service, she realizes that she is not invincible even now, in the afterlife: there is still the chance she will be forgotten.