Beth packs her things. She decides to leave Cal because she resents his pity for her. He wants to talk to her about the situation, but she refuses to let him worry about her the same way he worries about Conrad. Cal questions how much how much he really knows – or knew – about his wife, realizing that she is deeply secretive and self-controlling in a way he cannot understand. He also considers the shock with which Howard, Ellen, and Ray respond to news of the breakup. All of them believed that Cal and Beth had a perfect relationship. But he, like them, were unsure of how their relationship could falter.
The distinction between Beth and Cal's views on interpersonal relationships is finally clear. Beth believes that a person bears the responsibility of living with others in a positive way. Cal, meanwhile, is finally forced to admit that he must rely on his friends and family, and be sensitive to their wants and needs.
After breakfast, Conrad and Cal go out onto the porch. Cal feels cold, but Conrad is excited about the warmth and the approach of spring. Cal tells Conrad about his plan to sell the house; he feels it's "always been too big," and the money could be put to better use. Clumsily, Cal also mentions that Beth is "taking a trip" for a while. Conrad doesn't understand why his father isn't going with her. He grows increasingly bitter as he probes Cal for answers. Father and son trade harsh words – Conrad accusing Cal of being overprotective, Cal accusing Conrad for not being sensitive enough.
Cal continues to project his own feelings onto the surrounding situation, as he did in Chapter 15. But Conrad is fully in touch with its reality. His sensitivity enables him to shed light on Cal's pervasive anxiety.
After a stunned silence, Cal apologizes for yelling at Conrad. Conrad responds to the contrary; he appreciates his father's decision to put his foot down. Cal explains that he never wanted to be too hard on Conrad, and that Buck was the one who needed the most discipline. Conrad disagrees. He would have appreciated the extra attention from his father. After laying out their grievances and admitting their misunderstandings, Conrad tells Cal that he loves him. The phrase catches him off guard at first, but as he fights back tears Cal returns the sentiment. Neither is sure whether Beth will return, but they appreciate their newfound connection with one another.
Painful and pleasant feelings are mingled in this dramatic interaction between Cal and Conrad, as are the past and the present. Early on Cal realized that his family is as much a product of the past as of the present, but with Conrad's help he no longer views that fact as one to be dreaded. They have each separately confronted what has been thwarting them and from that found a way to build, tentatively, a stronger bond between each other.