Cal and Beth head off to Dallas. Conrad decides to stay with his grandparents Howard and Ellen, Beth's mother and father – Cal hadn't wanted to leave him alone at home for an entire week. At dinner, Ellen pesters Conrad about his long hair, skinniness, and less-than-stellar grades. All the while, Howard tries to get her to let their grandson eat in peace. Conrad holds his own, though, matching Ellen's constant questions with lighthearted quips. Seeing that Conrad refuses to hear her out, she eventually gives up.
Conrad interprets Ellen's fussiness as a return to life before his suicide attempt. His jokes are not an attempt to protect himself, but to build a rapport with his grandmother. Unfortunately Ellen seems as though she is truly concerned for Conrad's well-being, so his comebacks have the same distancing effect they had on Cal earlier in the novel.
Later, Conrad picks Jeannine up from her job at a nearby bakery. They plan to go see a movie, but first they stop at Jeannine's house. Jeannine grows tense when they arrive to find a car with Ohio license plates sitting in her driveway. Inside is a man named Paul Ferrier, who Jeannine has seen before; he's come to take Ms. Pratt on a date. Mike can't be left alone, which means that Conrad and Jeannine have to cancel their date and stay home. Visibly stressed, Jeannine retreats to make a snack for Mike, leaving him and Conrad alone in the den.
Mike's statement about strange men begins to make sense, as do Jeannine's earlier revelations about her past. We see how powerless she feels in her family situation.
Mike shows off his fledgling guitar skills to Conrad. Conrad praises his performance enthusiastically, encouraging him to keep at his lessons. Mike asks Conrad to play, and Conrad tosses off a few pop tunes. After a while Conrad decides to go check on Jeannine in the kitchen. Paul's visit has upset her; at Conrad's questioning, she explains that he is a friend of her father's, and that he began seeing Ms. Pratt while she was still married. The story causes Jeannine to start crying. Conrad holds her close to comfort her. As they kiss, Conrad treasures the feeling of being "so strong, so needed."
Playing guitar with Mike helps Conrad build his resolve before going to comfort Jeannine. Taking the time to put his mind and body in touch with one another enables him to provide Jeannine with the care and understanding she needs. He can even encourage her to express her emotions without reservation—an idea that would have seemed strange to him not so long ago. And he revels in feeling like he is giving someone else support, rather than always being the one who needs to be supported.