Shadi finally arrives in California, and Robert takes him and Nadia out to dinner at a fancy restaurant. During the meal, Nadia—who has spent the day thumbing through her mother’s prayer book and looking at the words Elise underlined—suddenly says, “You had no right to do that, you know,” referring to her father’s decision to take down the photographs of her mother. Robert tries to defend himself by pointing out that it’s been four years since Elise’s death, but Nadia rejects this, saying, “How do you think that makes me feel? To walk in and she’s just gone?” In response, her father says, “She is gone. And you’ve been gone too but now you want to tell me how to live in my own house?” With this, he stands up and leaves the table.
Because Nadia and her father never talk about their shared grief, it is impossible for them to have a levelheaded conversation about why Robert took down all the photographs of Elise. Nadia doesn’t initiate this discussion very well, beginning by combatively telling him that he has “no right to” get rid of Elise’s pictures. However, when she asks, “How do you think that makes me feel?” she puts herself in a better position to share her complicated emotions with her father. By this point, though, she has already enraged her father, who removes himself from the conversation, thereby avoiding having to talk with his daughter about the feelings they both hide from one another.
That night, Shadi sneaks into Nadia’s bedroom and slips into bed next to her. “I’m such a bitch,” she says, but he assures her that it’s “okay to be angry.” This only makes her angrier, feeling “annoyed by his patience.” She suddenly finds herself wishing he would get upset at her for once; “Just once, she wished he would see her for who she truly was,” Bennett writes. Feeling this way, she blurts out, “I fucked the groom.” After some silence, Shadi asks when this happened, and when Nadia says it was four years ago, he tells her he isn’t mad. “Well,” he says, “then that was four years ago.” He then cuddles up to her, but when he falls asleep, she wiggles out of his grasp and sits by the window with her mother’s prayer book in her lap.
When Nadia blurts out, “I fucked the groom,” she turns her secret into an interpersonal weapon, trying to provoke Shadi into seeing her for “who she truly [is].” She thinks shocking Shadi with this information will force him to acknowledge that she’s a bad person, suggesting that she sees herself as cruel and heartless. However, Shadi understands that Nadia’s relationship with Luke doesn’t make her a bad person. He knows that a person’s identity isn’t dictated by just one action and accepts Nadia’s complexities and contradictions even when she isn’t capable of doing so herself.
Nadia cries three times at Aubrey and Luke’s wedding: when Aubrey walks down the aisle, when Luke delivers his vows, and during the couple’s first dance. She finds herself longing to be the woman in Luke’s arms, or the one who stops his hands from trembling as he reads his vows. Restless and wishing there was alcohol at the reception, she goes to the bathroom and lingers in the hall. As she does so, Luke appears and asks if she wants a drink, uncapping a flask and handing it to her. As they sip his liquor, they talk about Shadi and Aubrey, and Nadia realizes that although she hoped the wedding would give her closure regarding Luke, he has actually now “burrow[ed] deeper into her,” and she feels the “dull burn of an old hunger.”
The language Bennett uses to describe Nadia and Luke’s interaction aligns with the novel’s interest in internalization. This is evident when Bennett says that Luke has “burrow[ed] deeper” into Nadia. For the most part, Nadia’s various internalizations have to do with grief and trauma, but here Bennett suggests that Nadia bottles up feelings love and desire, too. This makes sense, considering that her relationship with Luke actually does have to do with grief and trauma, since so much of her emotional turmoil can be traced back to the fact that she was once pregnant with his child.
Luke and Nadia finish the liquor, and Luke puts the flask in his pocket. Making their way back to the reception, they encounter Mrs. Sheppard, who grabs Luke’s arm and whisks him away. As Nadia follows, Mrs. Sheppard blocks her path and says, “This needs to stop.” When Nadia says that she hasn’t done anything wrong, the first lady says, “Girl, who you think you’re fooling? You know how many girls like you I’ve seen? Always hungry for what’s not yours. Well, I’m telling you now this needs to stop. You already caused enough trouble.” Confused, Nadia asks what she means, to which she responds: “You know what I mean. Who you think gave you that money? You think Luke just had six hundred dollars laying around? I helped you do that vile thing and now you need to leave my son alone.”
Mrs. Sheppard reprimands Nadia for spending time with Luke, finally confirming Nadia’s suspicion that Mrs. Sheppard doesn’t like her. “You know how many girls like you I’ve seen?” the first lady asks, making it clear that she views Nadia as the stereotype of a promiscuous, untrustworthy woman who tempts men away from their spouses. This is made obvious by her word choice, as she says, “girls like you,” expressing her conviction that people can be categorized. By calling the procedure “vile,” Mrs. Sheppard shames Nadia for getting an abortion—even though Mrs. Sheppard actually enabled Nadia to do so by giving her money.
Mrs. Sheppard leaves Nadia standing in the lobby outside the wedding reception. Alone, Nadia processes the fact that Luke told his parents about her abortion. Later that night, Luke goes to unzip Aubrey’s dress, but she reaches behind and stops him. “I know about you and Nadia,” she says. “I know you slept with her.” At this, he freezes, but Aubrey adds, “It’s okay. I just wanted you to know that I know.” He wonders how she knows, asking himself if Nadia told Aubrey or if Aubrey simply “sensed it on her own.” Regardless, Luke resolves to be “better” from now on, promising to himself that he’ll “be good to” Aubrey.
In this portion of The Mothers, some of the secrets that have been kept hidden throughout the novel are finally unearthed, and the characters are left to deal with the consequences. For Nadia, this means grappling with the fact that Luke’s parents know about and even paid for her abortion. For Luke, this means coming to terms with the idea that his new wife knows about his relationship with Nadia. In this case, though, the entire truth hasn’t yet revealed itself, since Aubrey still doesn’t know about Nadia’s abortion. However, Bennett shows readers that even partial truths are disorienting.