When Sal and Phoebe arrive at the Finneys for supper, the house is bursting with activity. The boys are playing, Mary Lou's sister is on the phone, and Mr. Finney is doggedly cooking in the kitchen. When they sit down to dinner, Phoebe expresses shock that the Finneys are serving fried chicken, explaining the dangers of cholesterol to the entire table. She refuses every dish handed to her on the basis of its fat content. Eventually, Mrs. Finney grimly presents the finicky girl with a bowl of muesli. On their way home, Sal impulsively asks Phoebe to spend the weekend at her house. Phoebe rushes into the house to ask Mr. Winterbottom's permission. Mr. Winterbottom, Sal can see, is clearly upset about his missing wife, but Phoebe, oblivious to his sadness, chatters on about calling the police. Later that night, Phoebe calls Sal, telling her friend that she thought she saw Mr. Winterbottom crying on the couch, but dismisses her own perception, explaining to Sal that her father "never cries."
Phoebe arrives at Sal's on Saturday morning, and immediately begins to complain about Sal's house and room, explaining that Mrs. Winterbottom has taught her that guests deserve the most lavish treatment. Sal fumes at Phoebe's complaining, even though she understands that her friend is upset and distracted by worry for her mother. Fleetingly, Sal wonders if her father feels this way when Sal throws tantrums. The two girls decide to visit Mary Lou. Sal sits with Ben on the front porch and finds herself inexplicably wanting to touch his face, but she restrains herself. Sal, realizing how much Mary Lou's parents remind her of her own parents, watches a bit wistfully as Mr. and Mrs. Finney climb a ladder to the roof of the garage, where, alone for a few moments, they hug and kiss each other. That night, Sal sleeps on the floor, leaving the bed to Phoebe, who cries herself to sleep. Sal leaves her to her sadness, recognizing that Phoebe wants to be alone with her pain.
When Phoebe returns home the next day, Mr. Winterbottom informs her that Mrs. Winterbottom phoned Mrs. Cadaver to tell the Winterbottoms that she was safe. Phoebe, suspecting Mrs. Cadaver of dismembering and burying Mrs. Winterbottom, wants to call the police. Mr. Winterbottom concedes that if they have not heard from her by Wednesday, he will call the police. The next day at school, Phoebe delivers an oral presentation on the Pandora myth. She carefully corrects the flaws in Ben's interpretation, pointing out that Pandora was a gift to man, not a punishment. She injects the myth with details and values from her own life, and finally explains Pandora's double bind: the gods gave her insatiable curiosity and then tempted her with a beautiful box, which they told her not to open. Naturally, she opened the box and all the evils of the world came pouring out. Among the evils was one source of good: hope. Later that night, Sal reasons that if a box of all the good in the world existed but contained one evil, that evil would be worry. Sal feels overwhelmed by her desire to call Phoebe and explain to her that Mrs. Winterbottom has left for her own reasons, reasons that had nothing to do with Phoebe. At this point, Sal's grandparents turn to her, echoing her words: her mother's leaving had nothing to do with Phoebe. Sal stops, realizing for the first time that in the same way, perhaps her mother's leaving had nothing to do with her.
Once again, Sal feels the need to rush toward Idaho. She worries about the time while her grandparents insist on visiting the Black Hills and Mt. Rushmore. Gramps, tired of driving, jokes that Sal, whom he taught to drive on the farm, should take the wheel. Sal enjoys the magical, whispering Black Hills, which are sacred ground for the Sioux Indians. Mt. Rushmore, however, disappoints the three travelers. Sal wonders if the Sioux feel deeply affronted by having the faces of American presidents carved into their holy land. Gram and Gramps also feel let down, and they leave Mt. Rushmore in a hurry. Sal begins to panic as she sees how far they still have to travel and how little time they have left. She urges her grandparents to hurry, but they insist that they must stop to see Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park.
In most families, meals serve a crucial function. Meals are a time when the entire family gathers and shares both physical and emotional nourishment. A family's behavior at mealtime provides a window into their inner workings. The Finney's meals, characterized by chaos, noise, horseplay, and delicious but fattening food, contrast sharply with meals at the Winterbottoms' home or at Sal's. Meals at Phoebe's are stiff, disconnected affairs during which family members miscommunicate or refuse communication, and Creech never describes meals at Sal's house, perhaps because Sal and her father eat at their friends' houses so much. This fact suggests that Sal and her father do not quite feel like a functional family without Sal's mother.
The Finneys give us a picture of the family life that Sal suggests her parents wanted: they are loving, messy, spontaneous, and enthusiastic. The Winterbottoms depict a version of the family life that Sal and her parents experienced just before her mother left. The members are withdrawn, caught up in and confused by their own sadness. Sal and her father stand in limbo somewhere between these two familial poles. Sal, like Phoebe, flinches when she is touched. She and her father seem to be together fairly rarely, and their times together are characterized by the sadness and distance typical of the Winterbottoms. At the same time, Sal remembers a time when her family was like the Finneys, and, though she feels resentful of and distant from her father, she makes consistent efforts to communicate with him.