As Nate and Buckley climb the stairs, Buckley asks Nate if he can see Susie at the top of the stairs—Buckley explains that Susie was gone for a while, but has now returned. Susie explains that she has never let herself yearn for Buckley, afraid that she might “break through” again and appear to him as she did to her father. Franny, however, asks Susie where she thinks imaginary friends come from.
Susie has been trying to control herself ever since she broke through to Jack, but now as Buckley tells his friend Nate that he is able to see Susie, she wonders whether she has been failing to keep herself hidden. Franny, filling in more details of the book’s mythology, reveals to Susie that what many children think of as imaginary friends are often departed strangers or loved ones “breaking through” to them.
Buckley tells Nate that Susie came in and kissed him on the cheek last night while he slept. Nate asks if Buckley told his mom, but Buckley insists it’s a secret, and Susie secretly told him that she isn’t ready to talk to their parents yet. Buckley takes Nate into Susie’s room, and urges him to be quiet. The two boys lower themselves onto their bellies and wriggle beneath Susie’s bed. Beneath the box spring, there is a hole full of secret things—candy, trinkets, and, wrapped in a handkerchief which Buckley pulls down from the hole, a bloody twig.
Buckley, aware that his sister is gone but seemingly the least emotionally affected by her death, instead treats her absence—and her apparent visitations—as something magical and exciting. Even rooting through Susie’s old things is an adventure, and the sadness of her loss does not seem to resonate within him yet—perhaps because he is so young, or perhaps because he is still able to communicate with her and so does not have to miss her.
Susie explains that a year earlier, when he was three, Buckley swallowed the twig while playing in the backyard with Nate. Susie had been supposed to be watching the boys, but instead was painting her nails. Nate came to get her to tell her that Buckley was choking, and Susie immediately carried Buckley into her father’s Mustang, fetched the keys from their hiding place, and sped all the way to the hospital. Grandma Lynn predicted that Susie would have a long, healthy life, since she had saved her brother’s; “as usual,” however, Susie points out that Grandma Lynn had been wrong.
Susie’s rescue of Buckley seemed to foretell that, in the cosmic order of justice, her bravery and selflessness would be rewarded with a long and happy life. This is not the case, obviously, and the fact that Susie points this out seems to indicate her disbelief in the role of the heavens, the cosmos, or the supernatural—whatever the governing force of the realms of the living and the dead might be called—in meting out justice on Earth.
Nate and Buckley pass the twig back and forth, and Buckley grows nauseous at the memory of his near-death experience. Buckley remembers how in the hospital, his parents’ eyes had gone from worried to calm, whereas now, in the wake of Susie’s disappearance, their eyes seem perpetually flat.
Even though Buckley himself does not appear to be experiencing a deep range of emotions in the wake of his sister’s passing, this passage makes it clear that the way grief affects Jack and Abigail trickles down and influences Buckley’s perspective and mood.
Up in heaven, Susie feels faint. She falls asleep in the gazebo, and when she wakes, there is a house in front of her that she has never seen. It reminds her of the Victorian Gothic house from the book James and the Giant Peach, and there is a widow’s walk at the top of the house—a kind of balcony which encircles the top floor, enveloped by a railing. For a moment, Susie thinks she can see a long row of women lined up along the widow’s walk, pointing at her, but a moment later, she realizes they are not women but crows. As Susie turns around to go back to her and Holly’s house, the crows alight from the building and follow her. Susie wonders if Buckley has really seen her, or if he is just a “little boy telling beautiful lies.”
This eerie emergence of a Victorian Gothic house will have resonance later in the novel, but for now, it seems to portend Susie’s having to reckon with the spirits of other women who are victims, just like her. As the women on the widow’s walk dissolve into crows, Susie begins to wonder how much she is affecting life on Earth—and whether these spirits have appeared to her to warn her against her meddling ways.