Quentin, Radar, and Ben return to Jefferson Park. Ruthie lets them into Margo’s room, and they remove the lock from her door and the door from its hinges, just as Whitman’s poem instructs. There is nothing, so the boys reattach the door and leave.
Ben’s revelation seemed like a turning point, but proves to be frustrating and anticlimactic. They are forced to recognize that they are not heroes in an adventure story, and answers will not fall easily into place.
Quentin and Radar follow Ben back to his house. They play video games and discuss Margo. Ben insists that Margo has to be in New York. He urges Quentin to go looking for her, and offers a grandiose vision of what might happen if he does. Ben suggests that Margo may have faked her fight with Lacey, and instructed Lacey to ingratiate herself with the boys and pass on information about Quentin in her absence. As soon as he leaves for New York, Ben imagines, Lacey will tell Margo what he has done. When Quentin gets off the plane, he is sure to find Margo waiting for him at the airport.
In addition to being absurd, the elaborate scheme that Ben imagines assumes Margo’s entire world revolves around Quentin, and that everything she has done has been crafted to get his attention. This is the narcissism of adolescent boys, who have difficulty imagining that the people around them have complex inner lives, and imagine themselves to be at the center of everyone else’s consciousness, just as they are at the center of their own.
Quentin knows Ben’s idea is ludicrous, but he finds it oddly compelling. Still, he cannot stomach the idea of missing two days of school, or provoking his parents’ anger by charging a plane ticket to his credit card. He lets the idea drop and goes home.
Quentin has had some success inhabiting a cool, confident persona among his peers, but he is still a rule-follower, afraid of doing wrong and getting in trouble.
Quentin remembers a former patient his mother once told him about: a nine-year-old boy who, after the death of his father, began drawing circles obsessively on every surface he could find. Mrs. Jacobsen told Quentin that the boy had created a routine to cope with the loss of his father, and that the routine became destructive. Quentin says he understands the circles kid, because he has always found routine and boredom comforting. As he goes about his routine after leaving Ben’s house, however, he cannot help thinking about his refusal to go to New York in search of Margo. The ordinariness of that night and the next day make him feel far away from her.
Though Quentin knows Ben’s ideas about Margo are wrong, and that going to New York would not resolve everything as neatly as Ben assumes (or, in fact, resolve anything at all). He is not disappointed at having passed up a chance to reunite with Margo, but rather at having failed to live up to the example she set for him. Doing what he thinks Margo would want him to do is a way of feeling close to her and protected by her. The comfort is no longer in his safe routine, but in the intimate and caring relationship he imagines they could have.