Nobody makes anything of the fact that Nadia had Luke’s watch, but the Mothers now understand that the object was a telltale sign of their affair. The Mothers reveal that Aubrey finally becomes pregnant with a baby girl, and they speculate that this girl will “someday” hear the story about Nadia and Luke. And although they admit this story shouldn’t necessarily affect this child, they assert that “the weight of what has been lost is always heavier than what remains.”
The Mothers’ retroactive realization regarding the significance of the watch emphasizes the ways in which even the most furtive secrets seem obvious after they’ve been discovered. Secrets, Bennett intimates, have a way of affecting the past, rearranging details and reframing memories to align with a new reality or truth. Similarly, secrets also influence the future, a fact the Mothers understand when they wonder what Aubrey’s child will make of the mysterious story surrounding her parents and Nadia.
Throughout the fall, Nadia drives the Mothers all over town. Meanwhile, Robert recuperates to the point where he can take walks around the neighborhood on his own. As his caretaker, Nadia tries to hide how worried she is about him. “She mothered as a penance,” Bennett writes. Still, she also talks to her father as a daughter, working up the courage one afternoon to ask if her mother ever considered having an abortion. “No,” Robert says immediately. “Never. She never would’ve done something like that. Did you think…No, honey. We loved you. We always loved you.” And though this news soothes Nadia—who fears that her birth ruined her mother’s life—she’s also aware that if her mother had considered getting an abortion, at least Nadia would be able to “look at her mother’s face in the mirror and know that they were alike.”
Nadia’s bond with her father is especially complex because they each vacillate between assuming the role of the caretaker and the dependent. When Nadia helps Robert recover from his accident, she’s provides support in their relationship. When she asks him to talk about her mother, however, she suddenly reverts to the child, perhaps reminding Robert that he’s the one who should be taking care of her. What’s more, when Nadia asks if her mother ever considered getting an abortion, Nadia seems to be flirting with the idea of telling her father what happened between her and Luke the year before she left for college. Unfortunately, her father’s reaction makes it clear that he strongly disapproves of abortion. When he says, “We loved you,” he implies that only loveless people seek out abortions, discouraging Nadia from revealing her secret.
Nadia has been spending so much time at Upper Room that the pastor asks her to chaperone the children’s Halloween party, where she runs into Luke in a dark corner. Leaning close, he tells her that he’s been talking to somebody named Dave, a counselor at a Family Life Center. “He doesn’t think it’s good that we never talk about him. Our baby,” Luke says. “We don’t have to be sad anymore. Dave says he’s in heaven right now. And your mom’s holding him.” In response, Nadia squeezes Luke’s hand—if this is what he needs, she thinks, then “she want[s] him to believe it. She want[s] him to believe it all.”
Luke looks to religion as something that will help him cope with his regret over Nadia’s abortion. Thinking about their would-be baby living in heaven soothes him and gives him something to hold onto. In contrast, Nadia doesn’t find comfort in religion, since the idea of her unborn baby and her mother existing in heaven doesn’t necessarily change the fact that she isn’t actually with them. Plus, Nadia didn’t want to have a baby, so the grief she feels regarding her abortion is different than the regret and retroactive sense of loss Luke experiences.
The following Sunday, Aubrey sees Russell in the receiving line at church. Catching up with him outside, Aubrey asks Russell what he’s doing at Upper Room. He says that he came because she didn’t answer his email about his return to the country and his invitation to get lunch together. Reiterating this invitation, he assures her he doesn’t have anything inappropriate in mind and just wants to thank her for keeping his “spirits up” while he was in Iraq. “Your husband can even come if he wants,” he adds, and Aubrey says she’ll mention the idea to Luke. Despite this, though, she remains quiet in the car on the ride home, even evading Luke’s question when he asks what she’s thinking about.
Aubrey’s reaction to seeing Russell at Upper Room aligns with the notion that their relationship is perhaps not as harmless as she’d like to think it is. By failing to mention to Luke the possibility of getting lunch with Russell, Aubrey proves that she wants to keep her contact with him a secret. Bennett suggests that Aubrey isn’t as innocent as she thinks, since her fidelity to Luke seems to waver when it comes to fostering emotional relationships. Since Aubrey doesn’t express love through physical intimacy and instead views love as an internalized emotion, a secret lunch date with a man with whom she’s been privately communicating for months is perhaps just has shameful as sleeping with somebody else.
Aubrey meets Russell at a diner on the pier two days later. Reminding herself they’re not on a date, she slowly relaxes throughout the meal, realizing she feels natural around Russell, who asks how her fertility appointment went. “Fine,” she says, thinking about how Luke doesn’t seem to care that she’s pregnant (which, it’s worth noting, nobody knows yet except the couple). All Luke can think about is the baby he lost “years ago,” the baby he “made with Nadia.” As they talk, Aubrey and Russell split a piece of lemon meringue pie.
Russell’s interest in Aubrey’s personal life and pregnancy contrasts with Luke’s aloof attitude. Once again, Bennett emphasizes that Russell and Aubrey share a close, personal bond that surpasses Aubrey’s connection with her own husband. Perhaps this is why Aubrey didn’t want to invite Luke to join them for lunch—doing so would have revealed her and Russell’s secret closeness.
Russell asks if Luke wants a boy or a girl, and Aubrey says she doesn’t know. “People always think men want boys,” Russell says, and when Aubrey asks, “You wouldn’t want a son?” he says, “Too dangerous. Black boys are target practice. At least black girls got a chance.” Aubrey says she doesn’t think this is true, saying that she herself feels “scared all the time.” “Well, you got your husband to protect you,” Russell offers. “My husband’s the one who hurts me,” Aubrey replies. “He thinks I don’t know he’s in love with someone else.” Having spoken these words for the first time, she realizes she must confront Luke about his affair with Nadia. Seeing the look on her face, Russell reaches across the table and lays his hand on hers.
Russell’s comment that black boys are “target practice” picks up the novel’s touch-and-go examination of the ways in which race influences the way people treat each other. Bennett’s considerations of how race influences identity are rarely at the foreground of a scene’s focus, instead existing as a background reality that she acknowledges from time to time. On another note, throughout the novel, Aubrey has slowly pieced together the details of Luke and Nadia’s relationship, first learning that they used to hook up, then learning that Luke once got a girl pregnant, and finally discovering that this girl was Nadia. In this moment, Aubrey finally articulates what she has long expected: that Nadia and Luke are still romantically involved.
Aubrey and Russell’s lunch date doesn’t go unnoticed in the community, and people from Upper Room start gossiping, telling one another that Luke Sheppard’s wife was spotted sharing lemon meringue pie with another man. It’s not long before the news reaches Luke, who finds himself most upset by the fact that Aubrey shared a dessert with this man, since splitting dessert is “intimate.” After hearing the news, Luke asks Aubrey, “How was your date?” Aubrey claims that it wasn’t a date, saying she doesn’t have to tell Luke about every single lunch she goes to. “If you’re out with some strange nigga, then yes, you fucking do!” he yells. After staring at him for a moment, Aubrey says, “I never ask where you go. I never ask when you’re sneaking off to see Nadia.”
Finally, Aubrey and Luke put their secrets into the open. Because Luke has actually acted on his feelings for Nadia, though, Aubrey is able to take the attention away from her own infidelity. Of course, readers know that since Aubrey isn’t a physical person to begin with, her emotional relationship with Russell is still disloyal to her husband, but Luke is at a severe disadvantage in this moment because his affair with Nadia is built on a backlog of secrets surrounding their romantic history.
Aubrey accuses Luke of loving Nadia. “Please,” he says, but she tells him he can stop lying, saying she knows he’s always loved her. Again, he pleads with her to stop, but she states, “She’s the one you want.” Luke finds himself disconcerted by Aubrey’s calm demeanor, having expected her to cry and yell. Indeed, her matter-of-fact “calmness” is what indicates to him that she’s going to leave him.
Aubrey’s “calmness” makes sense, considering that she has slowly pieced together different parts of this secret throughout the course of the novel. She has held on to the indicators that Luke and Nadia’s relationship was more than she knew, internalizing the details, grappling with them privately, and coming to terms with them one at a time. It’s as if she learned about Nadia and Luke’s affair in manageable increments so that now, when she finally knows the entire story, she can levelheadedly state the truth: her husband loves her best friend.