Back in Starnes’s un-air-conditioned living room, Colin, Hassan, and Lindsey interview him. He says he was born in “the country” (south-central Tennessee) and has stayed in the area his entire life. Lindsey, who speaks in a thick accent around Starnes, asks him to tell them about the factory. He recalls how he has worked there for sixty years, longer than anyone, and how he has known Lindsey’s family for many generations. He calls Lindsey’s father, Alex, a “sumbitch.”
Listening to Starnes and Lindsey speak gives Colin and Hassan an idea of how much they do not yet know about Gutshot and about Lindsey. Lindsey’s accent and the little information about her father also demonstrates to Colin yet another aspect of Lindsey’s identity that seems to predate any of the images she has created for herself at school.
It is now very hot, and Colin reflects that this is a hard way to make a hundred dollars. Starnes offers everyone some sweet tea. Colin thinks that the tea is “everything he’d hoped coffee would be.” He drinks a lot of it as he listens to Starnes talk about how Dr. Dinzanfar, Lindsey’s great-grandfather, made sure never to lay off more than one person per family even during the Depression. Starnes also explains that Gutshot got its name because it was a hotbed of boxing back when prizefighting was illegal. To get around the laws, boxers could not hit above or below the belt—hence the name “Gutshot.”
Colin’s lack of tolerance for sitting in the heat and listening to Starnes demonstrates that he has underestimated what it takes to do a job that is not geared toward grooming himself for a grandiose future. Contrary to deciding that this is a reason to give up, Colin digs into the hard work and begins to listen more intently and enjoy himself. His definition of worthwhile work seems to be expanding as he listens to a working-class man who represents everything Colin has never wanted to become.
Starnes continues talking about his marriage and about avoiding the draft by shooting off two of his toes. Colin reflects that Starnes never seems to have heard of “transitions.” He knows he is not a good storyteller either, but at least he has heard of transitions, he thinks. Still, Colin begins to enjoy listening to Starnes and looking at his old pictures. He determines that he will also have picture of his fiftieth wedding anniversary with Katherine XIX and that he will also leave behind something more. Colin loses track of them time until Lindsey stands up to leave, asking Starnes if he wants Hollis to get him an air conditioner. He says she has already done well by him. Colin shakes Starnes’s hand on the way out.
By listening to someone else tell a story, Colin begins to reflect on the work that goes into stringing events together to create stories. In this way, he realizes that he has some power over how he relates the events of his own life. However, he seems to think that this storytelling power will come only near the end of his life and only if he can win Katherine XIX back. Still, Colin is starting to realize that his intellectual and career ambitions might be “something more” in addition to his romantic ambitions.
In the Hearse, Lindsey insists that Hassan and Colin drop her off at the store to see The Other Colin and then make themselves scarce so that she can tell Hollis later that they were driving around all afternoon. She teases Colin that it’s because she finds his presence unbearable. He thinks she is kidding but nonetheless fails to conceal that he is hurt. Hassan tells Lindsey that usually when someone calls Colin unbearable, “it’s the last words of a Katherine.” Colin responds, “Dingleberries.”
Colin’s concern over what Lindsey thinks of him mirrors Lindsey’s earlier concern over what Colin thinks of her. Colin is sensitive about Hassan’s assertion that Lindsey’s teasing reminds him of the Katherines. This sensitivity suggests that Colin does not want Hassan to draw parallels between Lindsey and the Katherines because to do so would open the possibility of Lindsey as a romantic prospect even as Colin remains committed to the narrative in which he wins Katherine XIX back.
After dropping off Lindsey, Colin and Hassan spend some time eating unappetizing burgers and fries at Hardee’s. Colin reads more Byron until Hassan convinces him that they should stop by the Gutshot General Store, where Lindsey is with TOC. They show up at the store nearly an hour early. They find Lindsey sitting on TOC’s lap. They chat for a moment, and the conversation quickly turns to TOC threatening that if either Colin or Hassan touches Lindsey while they are living with her, “I’ll kill you.”
Hassan shows greater willingness than Colin to intervene in predetermined plans. TOC is worried that they will intrude on his relationship with Lindsey. The fact that TOC threatens Colin and Hassan rather than having a mature conversation with Lindsey about his feelings suggests that he, like Colin, is less concerned about his girlfriend as a person and more concerned about protecting her as one would protect property.
Lindsey gives Colin and Hassan TOC’s keys so that they can wait for her in his air-conditioned truck. On the way out to the truck, Colin and Hassan hear TOC ask if the genius is “the fat one or the skinny one.” Hassan comments on TOC’s muscular build and tells Colin that “the Fat One’s gonna take a piss in the field.” Colin responds that “The Skinny One” will be in the truck.
Rather than confront the boys about their disrespectful treatment of her, Lindsey simply breaks up the situation. Hassan again uses humor to deal with his self-consciousness about his body, spinning TOC’s insult into a joke.
When Hassan returns, he complains about Lindsey’s bubbly demeanor around TOC. Colin asks if Hassan has a crush on her, and Hassan says that dating Lindsey would be haram (forbidden by Islam). “Also, she’s got a big nose,” he says. Colin accuses Hassan of moral relativism because he does not seem to have a problem doing some things that are haram. Hassan insists that “I don’t think God gives a shit if we have a dog or if a woman wears shorts. I think He gives a shit about whether you’re a good person.” Colin begins thinking about Katherine XIX again, who works every summer at a camp for disabled kids. He wants to call her, but Hassan stops him. Colin says he wants to go home “to Lindsey’s.” Hassan fakes a “fat kid asthma attack” to interrupt Lindsey’s conversation with TOC so they can go back to Hollis’s house.
Colin’s immediate assumption that Hassan has a crush on Lindsey betrays that he is beginning to think possessively about Lindsey. Hassan cites his religious beliefs as a reason not to date Lindsey, and it is not clear whether his comment about Lindsey’s nose is his real reason for not wanting to date her or whether he says it to deflect suspicion. Colin makes light of Hassan’s religion, but Colin is less confident than Hassan that he is, in comparison to a do-gooder like Katherine XIX, a generally good person.
They eat dinner in the backyard, which Colin admires for its size. Gutshot has a wide-open feel that he likes. After dinner, he looks at his phone for any missed calls from Katherine XIX and ends up calling his parents. On the phone, he tells his father the truth about staying with Hollis. His father worries that he is too trusting. Colin protests that he survived seventeen years in Chicago, but his father cuts him off by handing the phone to Colin’s mother. At her prompting, Colin tells her he is marginally happier than when he left. She asks to speak to Hollis. After this conversation, Colin’s parents decide he can stay. Colin thinks it is because his mother always secretly wanted him to rebel a little like a “normal” kid. His father, he thinks, is probably just beginning to see the unlikelihood that Colin will every transcend normality.
The fact that Colin is able to negotiate his summer plans with his parents with a civil conversation demonstrates that, despite Colin’s rebellion, his relationship with his parents has by no means been damaged beyond repair. There is thus at least some truth to the idea that Colin has greater control over his future than his parents. However, Colin still struggles to express to his parents what he really wants out of the summer and out of the future, perhaps in part because he does not know for sure what he wants.
Off the phone, Colin walks past Hassan’s room and hears Lindsey and Hassan talking about him. Lindsey wants to know, “How does he do it?” and Hassan says that Colin remembers everything because he finds everything fascinating. Colin is flattered by how Hassan and Lindsey seem to be impressed by his brain, but he also feels the explanation is reductive because for him, his intelligence is more about making connections among seemingly unrelated things. He listens more and hears Hassan explaining that Colin works incredibly hard at any task he begins. The tasks he enumerates make Colin reflect that he has never done anything but rearrange letters, memorize already-known facts, fall in love with “the same nine letters over and over again,” and retype all of The Catcher in the Rye. He feels more than ever that the Theorem is his only hope for originality.
Even though Hassan and Lindsey are praising Colin, Colin sees the praise as a kind of slight because it both demonstrates that Hassan does not know the way Colin’s brain really works and reminds him that he has not yet achieved his goal of becoming a genius. Colin comes to a sense of self in this moment by realizing what it is that his brain does—make connections—but he instead focuses on the identity he wishes he could claim as his own. His failure to see that he has achieved the label of “special” for Hassan and Lindsey shows that Colin is still caught up in ideas about who he might become rather than realizing who he is.
Colin walks into the room, and Hassan and Lindsey change the subject. Colin works on the Theorem while they talk. At midnight, Colin looks up to find that Hassan has left, and Lindsey is looking over his shoulder. She mentions his anagramming talent and grabs his arm for a moment. Colin notices her nail polish. She remarks that, “you’re a genius at making words out of other words, but you can’t make new words out a thin air.” Colin realizes that this is “exactly it.” He tells Lindsey that he just wants to do or be something that matters. Lindsey lies down next to him and eventually says that they must be opposites because from her perspective, people who “matter,” (i.e. celebrities), seem more likely to have their lives shot down. She would prefer to stay in Gutshot, unimportant but happy. Lindsey, Colin reflects, seems like a bit of a wimp.
Lindsey’s interest in the Theorem and in Colin’s anagrams parallels Katherine XIX’s interest in Colin’s anagrams, and Colin begins to take notice of Lindsey like he might take notice of a girl he wanted to date. However, unlike Katherine XIX, Lindsey helps Colin realize something new about himself: he needs to work on how to tell stories and communicate what he is feeling. Colin’s realization that this is “exactly it” echoes his “Eureka” moment, when he realized his problem was nearsightedness. Lindsey means to help Colin see that he should not care so much about “mattering,” but what he begins to realize is that if he can articulate what he wants, he is more likely to attain it.
Lindsey interrupts Colin’s thoughts by beginning to teach him about storytelling. His stories, she tells him, need plots with beginnings, middles, and ends, and he can’t get away with rambling. He also needs a strong moral or theme as well as romance and adventure. She suggests that the story about the lion at the zoo might feature a girl who saves him from the lion when she notices how big his penis is. Colin puts his hand on Lindsey’s and notices the spot where she has bitten her thumb. He insists that his Theorem will have a beginning, middle, and end. Lindsey says there is no romance in geometry, and Colin tells her, “Just you wait.”
Lindsey has a strict prescription for how to tell a story. While Colin realizes that he has the power to arrange his stories such that they contain all these elements, he also insists that he has his own way of telling stories, which is math. Colin has yet to prove that he can tell a story through math, and in many senses the Theorem promises to be as formulaic as the storytelling model Lindsey proposes. However, Colin’s determination demonstrates that he feels more empowered than he used to feel to craft narratives surrounding his life.
In a section called “The Beginning (of the Middle),” Colin recalls how his pattern dating Katherines started. He was not especially hung up on Katherine I, but he saw her periodically because her father was his tutor. At first his dating other Katherines seemed like a coincidence, but then it became a monotonous pattern. They always dumped him because, as he sees it, he didn’t matter enough. He thinks about how the Romans punished St. Apollonia by crushing each of her teeth, one by one. He compares his relationship history to this punishment. “After a while,” he thinks, “having each tooth individually destroyed probably gets repetitive, even dull. But it never stops hurting.”
Colin understands that his relationships have not each been an isolated instance of heartbreak but rather that he is stuck in a system of heartbreak that resembles the punishment inflicted on a saint. Colin, wanting to become the subject of stories in the way St. Apollonia is, has gotten himself stuck in a repeating narrative of heartbreak so that if he accomplishes nothing else, he will at least be a figure of great suffering. Now, he begins to realize that he might not want to endure the ongoing pain of this repeating narrative.