One night, the sheriff comes to the house to tell the Bolgers that Chuck is about to be charged with statutory rape by a girl from Concrete High, and Huff and Psycho have also been named in the complaint. The girl is pregnant, and though she has been keeping the secret as long as she can, she can keep it no longer. The girl, Tina, is just fifteen years old. Tina has told the sheriff that she doesn’t want to charge Chuck with anything—she just wants him to marry her, and her father, too, has agreed not to press charges if Chuck consents.
Chuck’s morally dubious actions at last catch up with him—he’s now implicated in a situation that both embarrasses his family and requires him to change the entire trajectory of his life over a mistake made when he was probably drunk, inhabiting the persona of “bad Chuck.”
Chuck comes back to the shed from the main house and tells Jack the whole story. He says he can’t marry Tina Flood—and told the sheriff that he’d rather spend his life in jail than do so. The sheriff told Chuck to take some time and think things over, but Jack agrees with Chuck, and says if it were him, he wouldn’t marry Tina either. Jack is secretly relieved that Chuck has gotten in such enormous trouble, as it takes the heat off of Jack for a while.
Even in the face of his friend’s trouble, Jack is still more concerned with how the whole situation affects him—this is in many ways a byproduct of the survivalist instincts he’s had to develop over the years, but it’s also simply a selfish impulse rooted in his own insecurity.
As the days go by, the atmosphere in the Bolger household is tense and miserable. Mr. Bolger repeatedly tells Chuck that he must marry Tina, but Chuck cannot be convinced. Even when Huff and Psycho suggest Chuck marry Tina, bite the bullet for a few years, and then dump her, he refuses to marry her. Jack knows that Chuck wants a different kind of wife, and has spent a lot of time fantasizing about the “good life” he would have one day.
Chuck’s own fantasies of how his life would turn out prove to be fuel for his present misery. Chuck has nursed these fantasies for years, and now, faced with the idea that they won’t come to pass, he grows miserable and irate.
The sheriff begins pressuring Chuck more harshly to make a decision. Jack suggests Chuck run off and join the army, but Chuck doesn’t want to do that either. Many nights, Chuck cries himself to sleep. Jack wishes he could comfort him like he used to comfort Rosemary, but he knows there’s nothing he can do.
Jack knows that if he couldn’t comfort his mother and draw her away from her pain for all those years, there’s no way he can console Jack.
In the middle of all the madness, Jack receives another telephone call at school one day from Mr. Howard, who informs him that he has been admitted to Hill and will be receiving his official letter in a couple of days. Mr. Howard wants to get together with Jack again to talk about Hill—and also help Jack find the right clothes for prep school. He offers to pay for everything, and Jack is so shocked by the good news that he cannot focus in class all day.
Despite his friend’s misery—and having again found himself in a less-than-ideal home environment—Jack’s escapist fantasies have at last come true; he is soon going to be able to get out of Washington forever.
Jack’s letter arrives and informs him that he has received almost a full scholarship. The letter also states he’ll enter Hill as a sophomore, so that he can catch up in classes and spend more time on campus. Jack reads and rereads the letter obsessively, and studies an enclosed alumni bulletin with reverence. Also included in the letter is an information sheet which asks, among other things, how Jack would like his name to appear in the school catalogue; he writes his name as Tobias Jonathan von Ansell-Wolff III.
As Jack realizes that all of his dreams are coming true, he allows himself to indulge in deeper and deeper fantasies, and imagine what his life at Hill—and beyond—will look like. He also decides to adopt his old name (with some embellishments) as he prepares to adopt a new persona: prep school student.
Rosemary comes to pick Jack up from school one afternoon and takes him out for a Coke to celebrate. She asks Jack what he told the admissions board to get in; Jack sarcastically thanks his mother for the “vote of confidence,” insisting he just applied. His mother asks him if he’s going to get in trouble at his new school, and he promises he won’t. Rosemary shares some good news of her own; she’s gotten a job at Aetna Life Insurance in Seattle, and is starting in a week. She’s found a place to stay, and will soon be able to get one of her own.
Rosemary seems to know that Jack lied—or at least exaggerated—in order to get into school, but she is too happy for her son to truly call him out or force him to admit what he’s done. She is cautiously optimistic about both their futures, hopeful that they’ll be able to thrive in their new lives.
Jack and Rosemary discuss Dwight. Rosemary says that she doesn’t understand why Dwight even wants her to stick around; she knows he doesn’t like her, and just wants to hang onto her. She then tells Jack a piece of bad news—Dwight had never saved any of Jack’s money from the paper route, and it is all gone. Jack is miserable, but Rosemary insists she’ll get the money. There’s nothing else they can do. Jack can’t believe that Dwight stole over $1,300 dollars from him, but it’s not the money that makes him so angry—it’s all the time he spent on the route. As Jack and his mother walk back to the car, having finished their Cokes, Jack notices that for the first time in years, his mother looks light and happy again. They are both their old selves, and are “restless, scheming, [and] poised for flight.”
As Rosemary realizes that Dwight’s relationship was never about love or genuine care—it was always simply about control, possession, and manipulation—she attempts to apologize for how her own negative choices have influenced Jack’s life and caused him his own separate suffering. Despite all they have gone through, Jack and Rosemary both feel elated as they leave the soda fountain. They have escaped, and are finally free to roam and explore once again.
That night, the sheriff comes by one final time. He gives Chuck an ultimatum: “get with the program or else.” When Chuck comes back to the shed from the main house, he is elated, and falls to the floor laughing. He tells Jack, through his laughs, that there is going to be a wedding, and it’s going to be “fucking great.” He retrieves a bottle and drinks from it, and toasts to the bride—Mrs. Tina Huff (implying that Tina is going to marry someone else). Jack is awash in relief—he and his friend are both on their way to bigger and better things, having escaped the “floods” that threatened to drag them down.
Chuck has either lied to the sheriff or otherwise convinced the man to let him off the hook by throwing someone else under the bus. Though this is a cruel manipulation, Chuck and Jack celebrate it nonetheless—they are relieved to have saved their own skins and ensured that their fantasies of their respective futures can remain intact a while longer.