Bibbie (Vivian) provides for Maya and Bailey with the help of Mr. Freeman, who lives with her. Since he has a job with the Southern Pacific Railroad, he furnishes the provisions for everyone, while she earns extra money by playing poker. Mr. Freeman is undemanding and expects nothing but attention from Bibbie, whom he seems to idolize. He anxiously waits for her to come home every day.
Although Maya does not really miss being in the fundamentalist town of Stamps, she never grows accustomed to St. Louis and the noises of Caroline Street. To escape from the real world, she spends her time in the make-believe world of fiction books. She and Bailey also read flashy magazines, which affect their imaginations. Bailey begins to stutter, and Maya has nightmares. Bibbie, in her feeble attempt at motherhood, allows Maya to sleep in her bed in an attempt to ward off the nightmares.
One morning after her mother has left, the eight-year-old Maya wakes to find Mr. Freeman pressing himself against her. Maya is too naÃ¯ve to understand what is happening as her mother's boyfriend relieves his sexual desires against her body. She thinks Mr. Freeman is dying in his moment of sexual ecstasy. Then when he holds her, she feels loved. When he rolls over and accuses her of making the wet place on the bed, she is confused and ashamed, knowing she has not wet the bed. She hopes this does not mean he will stop holding her. Then Mr. Freeman threatens her, stating that if she tells on him he will kill Bailey.
The incident with Freeman is the first thing Maya has ever kept from Bailey, but she does not tell him what has happened because of Mr. Freeman's threats. Maya also finds herself wanting to be close to Mr. Freeman, for he is the first person who has ever showed her physical affection. One day she goes to him and sits on his lap. When he pulls her to his chest, she thinks his heart is beating for her. He moves her around on his lap then runs to the bathroom.
For months, Mr. Freeman ignores Maya, which makes her feel lonely. Then she forgets about what has happened, and the memory of his holding her melts into the "general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood." She gets a library card and slips into a world of fiction away from Bailey, her grandparents, and her uncles.
Vivian (Bibbie) has no idea how to be a good mother. She is incapable of nurturing Maya or meeting her needs. She pays the children little attention and never shows them any physical affection. Bibbie also allows Mr. Freeman to provide for the children, and she entertains herself playing poker, making some extra money on the side.
Suffering from a sense that she does not belong anywhere, Maya never thinks of St. Louis as home. She convinces herself that "I didn't come to stay," proof of her constant feeling that her life is temporary. To escape from her real world, Maya takes refuge in reading fiction and flashy magazines; but being young and impressionable, both she and Bailey are affected by the inappropriate things that they read. He begins to stutter, and she has nightmares. Her mother, in order to comfort her, takes her daughter into the sanctity of her bed; however, her weak attempt at motherhood places the young girl in danger. When Vivian is not around, Mr. Freeman takes advantage of Maya, relieving his sexual desires against her. Maya misinterprets Mr. Freeman's sexual attraction toward her as fatherly love. She is confused about what has happened, but she longs for outward signs of being loved.
Mr. Freeman's threats alienate Maya from Bailey, the one person to whom she feels connected. For the first time in her life, she keeps a secret from her brother. Feeling more isolated than ever, Maya longs for attention from Mr. Freeman. She innocently sits on his lap, like a daughter will do with her father. He is immediately aroused and has to go to the bathroom to relieve himself. After this second incident, Mr. Freeman begins to avoid Maya. To fight her loneliness, she loses herself in books that she checks out on her new library card. Since she always identifies with the good, strong heroes who win in the end, she longs to be a boy herself.