The narrative jumps ahead to the year 2026. Lauren writes that Keith has come back again. He is almost 14 now, and very tall. Keith tells Lauren that he’s “got a room” in a building, which Lauren takes to mean he’s squatting with a gang or a group of prostitutes or drug addicts. Lauren asks if his friends know how old he is, and Keith replies that of course they don’t. Lauren cooks them rabbit stew and acorn bread. After years of mutual dislike, Keith now talks to Lauren more than anyone else in the family. He tells her that the building looks “nasty” on the outside, but that inside it is filled with hi-tech amenities. He explains that the people he lives with need him around because he can read and write, and they are all illiterate. He helps them to read the instructions on their equipment so they can actually use it.
The fact that Keith and Lauren now talk more than they ever did before is puzzling. Lauren knows that Keith is engaging in dangerous, destructive, and likely immoral behavior, yet seems to have reached a kind of peace with him. Perhaps Keith has succeeded in his desire to demonstrate his maturity, leading Lauren to have a newfound respect for him. On the other hand, perhaps Lauren has simply acknowledged that there is nothing she can do to stop him engaging in this dangerous behavior—and thus she might as well know as much as possible about what he is doing.
Lauren knows Keith is lying, and that he must be earning money through theft or selling drugs. Keith asks if their father has ever beat Lauren, and she admits that the last time he did was when she was 12 and he caught her having sex with a neighborhood boy in the bushes. Keith says she was lucky not to get pregnant, and Lauren agrees. Keith calls their father a “bastard,” and Lauren counters that he is “the best man I know.” Lauren keeps asking Keith questions about his life outside, which makes him realize that Lauren wants to leave the neighborhood too. Eventually Keith explains that he initially slept in a cardboard box for three days and stole food. Eventually, he stole a “sleepsack” and some money from an old man, and started making his way to LA. Lauren notes that it has always been Keith’s dream to move there.
Keith and Lauren’s improved relationship seems to in part be based on the increased honesty with which they address each other. Although Lauren knows that Keith is lying about how he gets his money, he at least tells the truth about how he survived his first few days outside of the neighborhood. Lauren, meanwhile, confesses to her youthful sexual activity. Both siblings seem to appreciate the new candor of their relationship. While they are very different in many ways, both of them are precocious, independent, and stubborn, and both appreciate honesty.
Keith admits that he stole $23,000 from a man who’d come to LA from Alaska, before shooting him. He warns Lauren that she’d do better to stay in the neighborhood, marry Curtis, and have babies than go outside. He claims that Lauren would not be able to “last a day” because of her hyperempathy. Keith tells Lauren about “crazies” who take the drug that makes them want to watch fires. They shave off all their hair, paint their skin bright colors, and set fire to buildings and people. Keith swears that he’s never tried the drug. He adds that most of the addicts are young people, and that he thinks people don’t tend to live long after they start taking it.
Lauren and Keith’s discussion reveals three possible paths for the life of a young person in their circumstances to take: stay in the neighborhood and have children (as Keith advises Lauren to do), leave the neighborhood and earn money through illegal activity (as Keith is doing), or become a drug addict and meet an early death. The presentation of these three options is notably bleak; recall the fact that Lauren earlier declared she would kill herself if her only option for the future was getting married and having babies, which is on all accounts the best option of the three. Will Lauren be able to build another future for herself—or is her life doomed before it has even started?
That evening, Keith gives presents to the family and offers to bring something for Lauren next time, but she refuses. The next Monday is Lauren’s birthday. She has sex with Curtis using condoms he’s managed to find. Keith comes over and gives Lauren some money as a present. She tries to give it back, but Keith refuses to take it.
In contrast to the bleak options for the future, there are still some small joys and seeds of hope in Lauren’s life, like her birthday and her relationship with Curtis. Keith once again shows himself to be a provider for his family, even when his family doesn’t want him to be.
Two days later, Cory and Lauren’s father have to go downtown to identify Keith’s body. Lauren is unable to write for three days. On Saturday, she says that writing may help her understand what has happened. Keith’s skin had been cut away and burned, and his eyes had been burned out. It is clear that he had been tortured slowly. The police say that this is how drug dealers torture people, and that Keith must have either been stealing from or competing with them. The police treat Lauren’s father suspiciously, especially after Wardell Parrish tells them about the fight he had with Keith. It is well known that the police often accuse people of crimes just for the sake of it—but no one else in the neighborhood will back up Wardell’s story, so they drop it.
Keith’s gruesome death confirms Lauren’s suspicions that he was engaged in the drug trade. Despite his bravado, Keith was clearly no match for the brutal reality of life beyond the neighborhood wall. Of course, even within the neighborhood people treat each other in a brutal manner, as evidenced by Wardell Parrish’s statement to the police. Wardell has no reason to create trouble for Lauren’s father beyond the fact that he simply doesn’t like him. Yet in the ugly world of the novel, needless cruelty is everywhere.
Lauren’s father asks his friend, another reverend, to handle the funeral. Cory can’t stop crying, but Lauren’s father doesn’t cry—he never has, although now Lauren wishes he would. It’s only when Curtis points it out that Lauren notices that she herself hasn’t cried either. Lauren’s feelings about Keith remain mixed, and she resents how he “messed up” their family. She is still devastated by his death, and wishes that everyone had hyperempathy, because that way people wouldn’t kill each other. Failing that, she wishes she could at least live among other people with the syndrome. Lauren does not regret the fact that she cannot cry over Keith, though she hopes that he rests in peace—“in his urn, in heaven, wherever.”
At times Lauren expresses herself with great certainty—yet at other times, she seems just as conflicted and traumatized as anyone in her position would be. She is devastated by the loss of Keith, yet resents the destructive effect he had on their family both in life and in death. Her final sentence about Keith’s resting place is also significant. Normally, when it comes to matters of religion, Lauren speaks with conviction and clarity. However, Keith’s death seems to have thrown off her usual assuredness.