At the first chapel service of the year, Gene observes that though the campus looks the same, the calm ease of the summer session is over: Devon has returned to its strict rules and discipline.
The more things stay the same, the more they change. The school looks the same, but the innocence of summer, and Finny, is gone.
Gene decides that breaking rules means being broken by them in the end. He thinks of Finny and concludes that rule breakers will always end up broken and reformed by society.
Instead of admitting he broke Finny, Gene hides behind some abstract greater power that punishes rule breakers.
Gene lives in the same room he shared with Finny, but Finny's place has not been taken, so Gene lives alone. But a prominent student on campus named Brinker Hadley has replaced Leper, his neighbor from the summer.
Through his actions, Gene has "freed" himself of Finny. The change from the dreamy Leper to the impressive Brinker is another indication of lost summer innocence.
That afternoon, Gene walks to Devon's Crew House to report for his job as assistant senior crew manager. As he passes the Devon River he thinks of Finny performing a favorite stunt: balancing on the end of a canoe. He describes it as "perfection."
Gene thinks of Finny without jealousy only after the athletic grace he envied in Finny is gone.
At the boathouse, Gene meets Cliff Quackenbush, the crew manager, who most students at Devon dislike. After practice, Quackenbush demands to know why Gene is working as an assistant manager when he's a senior and will never get to be a manager. Quackenbush calls Gene a "maimed son-of-a-bitch," implying Gene is assistant manager only because he can't row. Gene hits Quackenbush in the face. They fight, eventually tumbling into the river.
Quackenbush is an insecure bully, but he's also right. Why did Gene become assistant manager? By attacking Quackenbush for calling him maimed, Gene provides a partial answer: he's avoiding sports because of Finny, who's athletic career Gene destroyed. Gene still feels his identity is tied up with Finny's.
On the walk back to his dorm, Gene runs into Mr. Ludsbury, the man in charge of his dormitory. Mr. Ludsbury scolds Gene for taking advantage of Mr. Prud'homme in the summer and says that now things will return to order.
Ludsbury confirms Gene's observation: the end of summer session is the end of peace and innocence. With Finny absent, law and order returns.
Mr. Ludsbury then tells Gene he got a phone call. Gene calls back. It's Finny, who's relieved that no one has taken his spot as Gene's roommate.
Finny's feelings for Gene remain uncomplicated.
But Finny can't understand why Gene would want to be a crew team manager. Gene silently comments that he wants to be assistant manager because he no longer feels he should play sports. But when Finny insists Gene has to play sports for Finny, it makes Gene realize now he has a chance to be part of Finny.
It's a continued desire to be like Finny that stops Gene from playing sports. Now Finny gives Gene a chance to be Finny, to take his athletic place.