It is 2:40 a.m. and Quentin is driving while Radar and Lacey sleep. Ben sits in the passenger seat. He admits that he is worried about how Quentin might feel if the reunion with Margo fails to meet his expectations. He talks about the strange experience of learning to like Lacey for the flawed person she is, rather than the idealized beauty queen he imagined her to be before they were together.
For Quentin, learning to look past perceptions into complex realities has been an intensely private, introspective project. Ben has also been developing this new understanding, he reveals in this conversation, but the process has been part of his relationship with Lacey rather than a product of extraordinary circumstances, as it was for Quentin. It becomes clear during their conversation that learning to differentiate between fantasy and reality is essential to all adult relationships.
Quentin is annoyed at Ben for lecturing him. He is about to respond when two massive cows suddenly appear in the middle of the road. Quentin realizes at once that he cannot swerve around the cows, or stop in time to avoid hitting them. He knows that hitting the cow will be a disaster, and realizes that he and his friends will probably die in this accident. Frozen with panic, he takes his hands off the wheel. His can only think about how much he wants to live and grow up, how sorry he is for endangering his friends, and how he blames Margo for leading them all on this chase.
Quentin has a more clear-headed vision of his priorities at this moment than he has at any other point since Margo’s disappearance. He sees the value of his own life, which at times he has been happy to lay aside for Margo’s sake; of his friends, whose value he has only just begun to recognize; and he sees how strong these attachments are compared to his one-sided relationship with Margo.
As Quentin releases the steering wheel, Ben reaches over and swerves onto the shoulder of the road. The car is spinning as Ben turns the wheel in the opposite direction of the cow. Finally, they stop. Quentin is bleeding from a cut on his cheek, and both of them are overwhelmed by the fear of what they have just experienced, but otherwise they are both unharmed. Lacey and Radar are awake, and are both unharmed as well. Lacey climbs into the front seat to check Quentin’s bleeding cheek; her maternal attention makes him start sobbing.
Quentin has been determined to accept total responsibility for this road trip. In this dire moment, however, he finds himself unable to handle that burden, and is forced to rely on Ben to keep them all alive. This is a dramatic illustration of the fact that no one person can handle all life’s problems on their own. Everyone needs the occasional support of others, especially in times of crisis.
Quentin turns off the engine, and all four of them hear liquid pouring out from some unknown place near the back of the car. Afraid it might be gas, they abandon the car, but Radar soon discovers it is beer, leaking from the broken bottles in the cooler. They inspect the car and determine that, except for a gash in the sliding door, everything is fine. Quentin commends Ben on his heroism, and Ben assures Quentin that he was only trying to save himself. The four of them take a vote about whether to go forward with their trip. Quentin waits to vote until everyone else has affirmed that they want to go on. They continue toward Agloe.
Their near-collision with the cow tests Quentin and his friends’ resilience. Their decision to go forward with the journey shows their continued confidence in one another and their commitment to finishing what they have started by finding Margo, even if they are now more aware of the potential risks. The pause also gives Quentin a chance to reorganize his priorities. He is still loyal to Margo, but by waiting to vote, he gives his friends a chance to change their minds and so puts them ahead of Margo and himself.