Clay runs from the movie theater back to Rosie’s. He looks for Clay’s mom’s car in the parking lot: it’s not there yet. He takes a breath and heads into Rosie’s. The booth furthest back—where Hannah sat with Marcus—is occupied. Clay sits at the empty counter and looks at a menu. Nothing looks appealing to him. He decides to wait 15 minutes before ordering, just like Hannah instructed. He wonders whether his mom worked out that something was wrong when she called him, and whether that prompted her to listen to the tapes.
Clay follows Hannah’s instructions, once again showing that he cares about understanding her story, and also suggesting that even though she already died, Hannah can exert some control over how people treat her, thanks to these tapes. Clay has been wandering all evening, only consuming coffee, so the fact that he has no appetite suggests he’s completely focused on the tapes and doesn’t have room in his mind to consider his own comfort.
Clay hears Clay’s mom’s voice beside him: she’s brought the tapes. She asks where his friend is—weren’t they working on a project together? Clay says he’s in the bathroom. His mom gives him a ten-dollar bill to buy a milkshake. Someone comes out of the bathroom but sits down at a booth, and Clay’s mom works out he was lying about his friend. She smiles, but she looks hurt. Clay tells her it might be a while until he comes home. When she leaves, he opens the shoebox of tapes: they’re still packaged up, which means she hasn’t touched them.
Clay maintains the lie that he’s working on a school project, showing that he’s still unable to talk about the tapes with his mom. But even though she figures out he’s lying, she expresses care for him and leaves him to continue what he’s doing, suggesting that their relationship has solid foundations. Clay knows his mother trusts him, but her physical presence reminds him that she wants to be involved in his life, which allows him to take his mind off Hannah’s story for one moment.
Clay plays the next tape. To begin, Hannah describes Peer Communications, which she calls “everyone’s favorite required class.” It doesn’t have much homework, and students are encouraged to call out in class; it was Hannah’s safe haven where nobody was allowed to touch her or tease her. Each day, the class would discuss an article about a social issue like bullies, drugs, or relationships. As Clay listens, he puts the remaining tapes into his pockets and returns the ones he’s already heard to the shoebox, which he puts in his backpack.
Even though things like bullying and relationship aren’t topics Hannah can discuss directly with the people who hurt her, she’s able to address these things in a class, which shows that when adults consider the difficulties of teenagerhood, they can help to create safe spaces to support vulnerable students.
Hannah explains that, at the back of the Peer Communications classroom, there was a wire rack on which each student pinned a paper bag with their name on it. If someone appreciated something someone else had said in class or wanted to give them any kind of compliment or encouragement, they could put a note into their bag. As far as Hannah knew, nobody ever dropped a mean or sarcastic note into someone’s bag—but on the tape, she addresses Zach Dempsey and asks him, “What’s your excuse?”
For Hannah, school is a place of anxiety and suspicion, but this class provides a concrete, secure opportunity to find hope and encouragement. However, her question to Zach suggests that even in this class, which is her safe space, she can feel threatened. This example follows the pattern of Hannah’s hope turning into disappointment.
In the present, Clay looks up to see Tony standing beside him. Tony asks him if the Walkman is his. Clay can’t tell if Tony is angry or confused, but he realizes he’s actually concerned. He confirms that the Walkman is Tony’s and lies that he asked him if he could borrow it. Tony replies that he must have forgotten in all the car-fixing chaos. He tells Clay to keep the Walkman for as long as he needs, takes a menu, and sits down in a booth. Clay resumes the tape, feeling feverish.
Tony’s response to Clay’s (allegedly accidental) theft is calm and generous, and he seems to be comfortable sitting in Rosie’s by himself. Both these details make him seem confident and self-assured. Meanwhile, Hannah’s story seems to have a physical effect on Clay’s health; his unsettled emotions manifest in physical symptoms.
Hannah begins her story about Zach with the afternoon at Rosie’s. After Marcus leaves, Zach walks over to Hannah and sits down opposite her. Hannah ignores him, thinking about all the events that have snowballed to bring her here. Zach lets Hannah ignore him for a long time before clearing his throat and asking if she’s all right. He apologizes for whatever happened with Marcus and offers to buy Hannah another milkshake. Hannah doesn’t respond, though she doesn’t know why. She can’t work out if Zach is hitting on her—she doesn’t trust him. Zach leaves some money on the table and goes back to sit with his friends.
Hannah is unable to follow any of Zach’s conversational cues, demonstrating how distraught and unsettled Marcus made her feel by touching her without her consent. Zach doesn’t really pick up on how deep Hannah’s distress is, given that he keeps trying to talk to her despite her silence. Hannah begins to totally disconnect from the world around her, though it’s less a conscious decision than an innate reaction to the trauma she’s just experienced.
Hannah tears up but she stays focused on the table, unable to speak. This is the moment when she first starts to consider suicide, though she can’t say the word out loud. After Zach goes back to his friends at Rosie’s, Hannah overhears them teasing him for not securing a date with her. She imagines that he wanted to get back at her—and after that, he does, stealing her notes of encouragement from her paper bag at the back of Peer Communications class. Hannah becomes suspicious after she comes to school with a new haircut and doesn’t receive any notes in her paper bag. Usually if someone got a haircut, they get a lot of notes. Three weeks go by after Hannah’s haircut with no notes, so she writes herself a note to work out what’s happening. She drops it in her bag, but the next day, there’s nothing in there.
Hannah’s first thought of suicide begins right after Marcus has sexually assaulted her, which emphasizes how acutely disempowering it was for her when Marcus took away her ability to control her body. Zach decides to focus on his own embarrassment rather than Hannah’s visible distress, preferring to believe that Hannah was rejecting him personally. His defensiveness leads him to step away, harming rather than hurting her.
On the tape, Hannah tells Zach he probably didn’t think the notes were a big deal, but for her, they were the only hope she held onto at that point. As Clay listens to Hannah’s tape, he realizes that he’s beginning to feel close to Hannah, and it reminds him of being close to another dying person the night of the car crash he witnessed outside Hannah’s house. Then, there was nothing anyone could do to help the victim, and Clay wonders if it was the same for Hannah—could anyone at school have done anything for her?
Hannah is aware that her listeners might not realize their deep effect on her or how desperate she was feeling toward the end of her life. Her tapes allow them to understand how their actions contributed to—rather than caused—her fatal decision to die by suicide. Clay begins to realize how deep his feelings are for Hannah, though it’s a tragic moment, because he can’t do anything to help her now.
On the tape, Hannah asks Zach how many notes he took from her, and whether he read them. She wishes she could have known whether anyone wrote to her after she opened up in class—it would’ve encouraged her to share more. Clay thinks Hannah is being unfair: if Zach had known how hopeless Hannah felt, he might not have stolen the notes.
Hannah won’t ever hear Zach’s reply to her questions; she asks him not because she wants to hear his reply but to make him reflect on his actions. Clay still thinks Hannah is blaming Zach, though—and he feels defensive on Zach’s behalf, perhaps because he feels a sense of dread as he anticipates what Hannah will hold him responsible for.
Hannah continues her story. The day Hannah’s note goes missing, she stays after class and sees Zach looking into her paper bag. He finds nothing there and leaves without checking his own bag. The next day, Hannah secretly tapes her bag to the rack with a flimsy piece of tape and puts a note inside. After class, she watches Zach open her bag and reach inside. The bag falls to the floor, but Zach still takes the note. He runs into Hannah as he leaves the classroom but walks away without saying anything. Hannah watches him walk down the hallway and open her note. She realizes he doesn’t think she deserves an explanation.
Hannah’s suspicious, cynical side allows her to figure out who’s taking her notes. She finds she can put her energy into working out this mystery, but once she’s solved it, Zach deprives her of an explanation—so even when she tries to stand up for herself, she feels ridiculed and powerless. Meanwhile, even when he’s been caught in the act, Zach doesn’t explain himself or apologize. He seems to feel entitled to Hannah’s property and feelings.
Hannah tells the listeners that she addressed the note to Zach, telling him that he had stolen the encouragement she needed. As he walks down the hallway, she yells after him, “Why?” and begins to cry. Clay remembers people talking about that moment as though Hannah broke down without any reason. At this point in the tape, Hannah tells Zach that she knows her parents love her, but they’ve been stressed and distant since a huge shopping center went up a year ago, threatening downtown stores like theirs. Because of this, when Hannah cut her hair, Hannah’s mom didn’t notice.
Clay’s memory of what people said about this incident shows the general lack of empathy at school for Hannah. Instead of trying to understand why she acted emotionally, people decided to talk about her as if she was strange, further alienating her from the majority of the student population. Hannah’s mom’s distraction is also a sign that Hannah feels unimportant in her own family—she knows her mom has a good reason for being distracted, but her distraction still make Hannah feel like a low priority.
On the tape, Hannah continues her story. After Hannah finds out that Zach has been stealing her notes, she leaves a note in the teacher’s paper bag suggesting a topic for the class to discuss: suicide. She doesn’t really know why she suggests it, but looking back, she wonders whether it was a cry for help.
Hannah, feeling desperate, doesn’t know the reasons for her actions. It’s as if she’s acting on autopilot, but a part of her still, subconsciously, wants help.
Clay remembers that a few days before Hannah died, she seemed to brighten: she greeted people in the hallway and looked them in the eye, and it felt like a huge change. He wonders whether he could’ve seen how Hannah had been feeling if he’d looked closely enough.
Clay ponders whether Hannah’s story could have ended differently if only people had noticed the warning signs in her behavior. Perhaps this gives him the motivation to watch out for other people who seem to be demonstrating the same kind of behavior in the future.
Hannah continues her story. When the class discusses the topic of suicide, Hannah realizes her classmates are annoyed that someone suggested the topic. They assume that whoever it was is just looking for attention and that they’d have come forward if they were serious. They suggest different things they could do to help the person, but they seem focused on finding out who wrote the note—which never happened when people suggested other topics in the past. The teacher brings up some facts about suicide, including that many suicides are wrongly reported as accidents, so many people are unaware of the true statistics in their community. She also passes out a flyer called “The Warning Signs of a Suicidal Individual.” One of the top five warning signs is “A sudden change in appearance,” which Hannah reads as she touches her newly cut hair.
Hannah’s class’s reaction to her anonymous note is pretty ungenerous—instead of being eager to help, or trying to understand why someone would’ve wanted to stay anonymous, they just assume that whoever wrote the note wanted to cause a stir. Even though the teacher tries to inform the students about the seriousness of suicidal behavior, nobody seems to notice that Hannah is exhibiting that behavior. It’s as if she’s invisible to her teacher and classmates.