At home, Quentin reads “Song of Myself” and tries to determine whether it is “a suicide-note kind of poem.” He soon becomes anxious, and calls Detective Warren to tell him about Margo’s clues and their findings in the strip mall. He admits his fear that Margo may have killed herself, but Warren deems that an unlikely possibility. Warren urges Quentin to stop searching for Margo, lest he lose himself in the process.
Quentin reaches out to Warren in search of an adult who can ease his fears and manage the situation now that Quentin feels overwhelmed by it. When Warren proves unhelpful, it is the end of Quentin’s childhood — he can no longer stand back and let adults manage difficult things for him. He has to face this awful possibility alone.
Frustrated by his conversation with Warren, Quentin begins search for the phrase “paper town” online. He finds a comment in a discussion forum about Kansas real estate that refers to an abandoned subdivision—a pseudovision — as a “paper town.” He concludes that Margo has decided to take her life in one of the city’s pseudovisions, and has designated Quentin to find her body. He decides she has chosen him because they shared the experience of finding Robert Joyner when they were children, and she believes this has prepared him to find her as well.
Quentin assumes that “paper town” — like Whitman’s poem — is a borrowed term, rather than a metaphor Margo came up with on her own. While her puzzles are supposed to bring him greater understanding of her mind, they also obscure her by directing Quentin to the ideas and words of others, and away from her own. It is worth noting how certain Quentin is that Margo has taken her life. He seems afraid to entertain any other possibility, perhaps because he believes losing false hope will be more painful than accepting reality.
Quentin sends an instant message to Radar, telling him his theory. Radar tells Quentin to calm down, though he admits that the evidence doesn’t look good. Ben, whom Quentin calls after finishing his conversation with Radar, is dismissive. He believes Margo is alive and well, and assumes her clues are bids for attention. Quentin resents Ben’s cavalier attitude. They hang up, and Quentin spends the rest of the evening searching for pseudovisions near Orlando. He finds five possible places, then prints out a map of central Florida and hangs it on his wall, using thumbtacks to mark each pseudovision. He resolves to travel to all of them.
While Ben’s blasé reaction to Quentin’s theory is insensitive, it also highlights the fact that Quentin has invested in an unnecessarily melodramatic version of events. As Detective Warren pointed out, no strong evidence exists to suggest that Margo has committed suicide, or plans to do so. Quentin perceives a tragedy where he once saw a romance, but this interpretation is in many ways just as baseless as the first.
The next day, Quentin borrows RHAPAW and drives to Grovepoint Acres. He finds himself talking aloud to Margo, promising he will not betray her trust. He finds this one-sided conversation comforting. In Grovepoint Acres, Quentin finds neither Margo’s body nor any sign that someone has been there. He leaves to explore another pseudovision, called Holly Meadows, and finds it similarly desolate.
Until this point, Quentin and Margo have been in a kind of dialogue with one another, her clues and his responses fitting together in a coherent way. Now, Quentin is literally and figuratively talking to nobody. Margo has stopped leaving clues, and is more completely vanished than ever before.
In Holly Meadows, Quentin sees an oak tree similar to the one under which Robert Joyner’s body was lying when he and Margo discovered it. He is certain Margo will be dead beneath the tree, and finds himself for the first time picturing what her body will look like. She is not beneath the tree, but the mental image upsets Quentin so much that he begins punching the dirt with his fists. He thinks that Margo was wrong to assume finding Robert Joyner would prepare him to find her, because he didn’t love Robert Joyner.
Quentin has made references to being in love with Margo before, but those have never been more than exaggerated statements about his crush on her. Facing the idea of losing Margo forever, Quentin reveals a sadder and more adult understanding of love. He is forced to recognize how love and loss are intertwined, and to feel how love can make a person vulnerable.