Lily gets a job as a teacher in the tiny town of Horse Mesa, which has only one telephone, and groceries delivered twice a week. They are all happy to be out of the city. Jim is content with his job driving a gravel truck, and Lily is happy to be back in a one-room schoolhouse without bureaucrats second-guessing her. Because the school only goes through eighth grade, Rosemary and Little Jim go to boarding school once again. Lily gets Rosemary a string of fake pearls before she leaves, then tells her about Ted and the fake diamond he presented her with. She asserts that if Rosemary holds her head high, no one will know the pearls are fake.
Living closer to nature and free from the constraints of big city life, Jim and Lily are finally at peace once again. Lily still has no need for finery, having learned through her marriage to Ted that such things are ultimately meaningless; all that matters is knowing your own worth.
Lily discovers she has a knack for politics. She helps the United Federation of Teachers stop the Department of Education from shutting down local schools, and at one point even barges into the governor’s office to berate him for not funding an education bill. She becomes the Democratic precinct captain for Horse Mesa, and proudly registers all thirteen families to vote.
Lily’s political skill was foreshadowed back when she stood in for her father in court after Old Man Pucket shot his dogs, and again when she attended women’s suffrage rallies in Chicago. Her political life comes full circle here.
Both Rosemary and Little Jim attend Arizona State. Little Jim is now bigger than his father and plays football. He marries a girl named Diane and drops out of school to become a police officer. Upon his marriage, Lily thinks, “one down.” Lily agrees to let Rosemary study art in college as long she gets her teaching certificate. Though many men ask Rosemary for dates, Lily believes she needs a solid man to anchor her.
Lily still does not think art is a viable career, but supports Rosemary regardless. Rosemary continues to be half-broken, fulfilling Granny Combs’ prophecy that she will be a “wanderer.”
After her third year in college, Rosemary meets Rex Walls while swimming in a canyon with her friends. He is from West Virginia and stationed at a nearby air base. He starts a fight with a man who flirts with Rosemary on their first date at a Mexican restaurant, and the two run out without paying the bill in a move Rex calls “the skedaddle.” Rosemary says he is the first man to appreciate her art. He comes to Horse Mesa to see her paintings, which he praises effusively. When Lily shows him her dentures, he pulls out his own, saying he lost his teeth in a car accident at seventeen. Lily is impressed that he is able to laugh the incident off. Rex calls Rosemary’s artwork masterpieces and puts them up on Lily’s walls.
Rosemary and Rex’s first date forebodes the never-ending tumultuousness of their relationship. (In The Glass Castle, Rex will regularly employ “the skedaddle” with he and Rosemary’s own children.) Despite his instability, Rex exhibits the same refusal to pity himself that Lily has admired throughout the novel. Note also that flight is so common now that there is an air force base near Lily’s home.
Lily continues to be suspicious of Rex, who is charming but unstable. Rosemary likes Rex specifically because he has a wild streak, and views life with him as an adventure. One Saturday morning when Rosemary is home from college, Rex comes to Horse Mesa and asks if Lily and Jim would teach him to ride a horse. They reluctantly agree and saddle up some neighbor horses. Lily can tell Rex is ill at ease and tries to give him tips.
Rex reminds Lily of Ted, and she has learned by this point that charm is not an indication of good character. Rosemary’s penchant for adventure and danger—first manifested in her accident-prone childhood—fuels her love for Rex.
Rex keeps up a brave face and insists on galloping. Then the mare gets spooked and takes off. Recognizing that the horse is scared and needs permission to stop, Lily stands in front of her and gets her to slow down. When she does stop, Rex falls off. Lily is impressed that he gets back on the horse, and the group continues to ride for the afternoon. Rex then gets out a bottle of liquor and they play poker. Though he is a good player, Lily notices that he keeps refilling his liquor glass. Lily insists Rex not drive home drunk, he refuses to take instructions from some “old leather-faced, hard-assed biddy” and drives away.
This is the first evidence of Rex’s drinking problem, which will be further evidenced in the epilogue (and which serves as a major plot point in The Glass Castle). His temper echoes Dad’s early in the novel, but Lily still admires his ability to get up after a fall—in effect, to take control of his fate.
The next day Lily insists that Rex is dangerous, but Rosemary says if you worry about danger you miss out on adventure. Lily notes that Rosemary has not really listened to her ever since the whipping for swimming with Fidel Hanna.
Rex shows up with a bouquet of lilies by way of apology. Lily still insists that Rosemary needs an anchor in her life, but Rex says that makes it “hard to fly.” He then offers to take Lily for a plane ride. The next Sunday he picks her up, wearing her aviator’s jumpsuit. On the road he tells her about his background, and the two bond over both selling illegal hooch.
Rex pulls over to a trailer park and introduces Lily to Gus, an old air force buddy who jokingly warns Lily against letting Rex marry her daughter. Lily is unamused. Rex leaves Lily with Gus while he collects the plane from the air force base; Lily appreciates that he, like her, pays no attention to silly regulations. He returns and takes her in the air. Lily loves flying, even as Rex does tricks like flipping the plane upside down and nearly skimming the land. He then directs a herd of cattle with the plane, remarking that you “can’t do that on a horse.”
The conversation with Gus foreshadows future trouble for Rosemary and Rex. Though Lily and Rex both dislike rules, Lily breaks them in the name of personal conviction, whereas Rex often does so just for the thrill of it. Rex’s flight maneuvers reflect his reckless persona. His herding of cattle with a plane again foretells the death of more traditional ranching methods.
That spring, Rosemary announces she is going to marry Rex, causing Lily to remark that she is the one kid she couldn’t teach. Rex decides not to reenlist. Lily worries where they will live, but Rosemary says she feels like she hasn’t had a home since they left the ranch and may never settle down. Still, Lily accepts her decision and pays for the wedding to make sure they marry in a Catholic church. She invites many of the people she has known throughout her life to the wedding, where Rosemary seems to be having the time of her life. Afterwards she and Rex drive away, looking to Lily and Jim like “a couple of half-broke horses.”
From childhood, Lily has believed that everything in life could be a lesson. Dad taught her that everything has a Purpose, and she has made her career as a teacher. The ultimate sadness for Lily, then, is that she can never reach Rosemary. True to Granny Combs’ prediction, Rosemary is a wanderer. She and Red may never be tamed, and may never be able to live within the confines of traditional society—which is why Lily refers to them as half-broke horses.