In the morning, Quentin forces himself to vomit and tells his mother that he has a stomach bug. She leaves for work, telling him to call if he needs anything. Ben and Radar arrive shortly after she leaves. They are blasting music, and the three of them drive toward the Bartlesville address with the windows rolled down, enchanted with their freedom.
The day begins as a classic adventure: three friends on a road trip. Quentin, Radar, and Ben have all embraced the trappings of that adventure. They are living out their idea of what carefree kids do and feel, inhabiting this cliché as they have so many others. The fact that it is cliché, though, doesn’t diminish the pleasure.
On the outskirts of Orlando, the land becomes dry and desolate. Quentin notices a patch of undeveloped land with an unfinished blacktop road. A sign refers to the place as “Grovepoint Acres,” and he thinks it must be what his mother refers to as a “pseudovision” — a subdivision abandoned before it could be completed. A few miles past Grovepoint Acres, Radar announces that they are getting close to their destination. Quentin finds his excitement has faded before the depressingly barren landscape.
Here, the grim reality lurking beneath the thrill and mystery of Margo’s disappearance is becoming visible to Quentin for the first time. The unfinished subdivision is an eerie figure for other things that have been cut short, such as Margo’s experience in high school and the life of Robert Joyner, among other things. It forebodes a sudden and painful end to the boys’ adventure.
The address in Margo’s note turns out to be that of an abandoned strip mall with boarded-up windows, water damage, and cracked paint. The sight shocks Quentin. It occurs to him that this is the kind of place where a person comes to die, rather than to live. The rancid smell that meets him when he steps out of the car seems to confirm his fear that someone has died in this place. He is terrified of what he might find inside.
Margo understands the human mind’s subconscious power to recognize and interpret symbolism, and she uses that understanding to communicate feelings through symbols when words are insufficient. Quentin understands her pain better by looking at this building than he could when she spoke to him.
Quentin remembers Margo saying she did not want to be found dead in Jefferson Park, the way Robert Joyner was. It occurs to him that she might still have wanted to die. The smell of rot is overpowering. Radar calls Margo’s name, but there is no answer. Quentin is afraid with a visceral intensity unlike anything he has experienced. He is totally unprepared for this moment.
Quentin’s mature fear marks the beginning of a mature love for Margo. Until this point, he has been interested in her for selfish reasons: she made him feel brave, she made his life interesting. At this moment, he is invested in her wellbeing rather than his ego.
Ben tells Quentin they should leave and bring the police. Radar insists they cannot leave until they have gotten into the building and found whatever Margo intended Quentin to discover. Quentin looks at his friends, and their presence makes his fear bearable. He agrees that they have to go into the mall, realizing that he has to find Margo even though he no longer knows who she is or was.
Ben does in this moment what Quentin did on the day he and Margo discovered Robert Joyner: urges his companions to leave and bring in someone who knows how to handle the situation. Quentin’s decision to go into the building revises his past cowardice. He refuses to run from painful truths.