Since spring has come to Lou’s village, tourists are starting to return, and things are looking a bit livelier. While many people in town find the tourists annoying, Lou likes meeting new people from faraway places. This means that Lou is in a good mood when she arrives at Will’s house, and cheerfully informs him that the two of them are going to see the horse races with Nathan. She presents the information as if the trip will be for Nathan’s benefit rather than Will’s, and Nathan plays along, though Will acts suspicious.
Lou has a perfect day planned out, involving watching the races outside and then eating lunch at a restaurant. But she gives a hint that all won’t go as planned, remembering a joke her father used to make about the difficulties of planning a day out with family and stating that she wishes she had listened to his advice. Then, Lou lists a series of small humiliations and difficulties. The first is a grass parking lot that makes maneuvering Will’s wheelchair messy and difficult. Then, she and Nathan have to wheel Will to a distant disabled entrance. Lou is less annoyed by this than she is hurt by the tactless attitude of the woman in the ticket office. Lou tries to remain cheerful, but ends up annoying Will even more with her chatter. Finally, they reach their seats. Lou sees that the seating is arranged more or less by class, with wealthy customers in a Premier Area, less wealthy ones sitting beside her and Will, and drunken men with vaguely military haircuts closest to the track.
The horse racing begins, and both Nathan and Lou find themselves drawn into the suspense, though Will remains sarcastic about it. In the end, the horse Lou had bet on doesn’t win. Will seems to be uncomfortable or upset and asks for a scotch, so the three set off to get some lunch. They find a fancy-looking restaurant on the grounds of the racetrack. Lou has anticipated every complaint Will might have— for instance, knowing he won’t want strangers to see him being fed, Lou tells him that she will face his chair away from the rest of the room. However, the hostess refuses to seat Will, Lou and Nathan, since the restaurant, it turns out, is only for the Premier Area ticketholders. Lou is calm at first, but the hostess can’t suggest any restaurants that suit Lou’s plan or would be comfortable for Will. Lou ends up becoming so angry that she cries and tells the hostess off, which makes the other diners stare. Will and Nathan aren’t able to understand her single-mindedness, but eventually they get her out of the restaurant, and the three of them go to the stand outside instead. Lou doesn’t feel much better, though, because the servers stare at Will while he eats. Finally, when it’s time to get Will back to the car, the parking lot is too muddy to navigate Will’s chair back to the car.
Lou ends up having to ask around for help, which she ultimately gets by convincing the drunk men from the races that Will is a veteran who was wounded during his military service. Since the men are all veterans as well, they agree enthusiastically. They hoist Will into the car, chair and all, but the experience is awkward— not to mention confusing for Will, who doesn’t understand why they keep asking him about time in the military. The long outing ends with Nathan’s disheartening realization that there was a handicap-access parking lot all along. Will is silent for the rest of the afternoon, until Lou asks him whether something is bothering him. He confronts her, accusing her of behaving towards him as everyone else does. He tells her that he hates everything to do with horses, but the bigger problem isn’t having to go to the horse races. Rather, it’s Lou’s assumption that she knows what’s best for him, and her decision not to include him in the planning of his day.
At the start of chapter twelve, Lou backtracks and tells us about the day she “stopped being fearless.” It happened seven years before, during a long summer marked by grief after her grandmother’s death. Lou and Treena had plenty of free time, and Lou wanted to broaden her horizons. She dressed like the other girls in town instead of in her more unusual clothing choices, and she booked a ticket to Australia, inspired by a boy in her class who had traveled around the world. On a weekend, Lou and some friends celebrated their freedom by going out drinking and sharing a joint with a group of worldly-seeming and wealthy tourist boys. The entire group went off to the middle of the maze outside the town’s castle, and after a while Lou looked around and realized the other girls had left. She doesn’t say what happened next, only that later that night her sister found her sitting silently in the center of the maze, alone and shivering. Though it’s not entirely clear just what happened in that maze, Lou jumps back into the present, where she’s talking with Will. She tells him she’s joined the library and he insists on loaning her a book of short stories. Then she reveals that she’s never been to a concert. Will can’t believe it and decides that the two of them are going to hear a performance of classical music next week, since Will has a friend in the orchestra who can get them tickets. Lou tends to resist anything too foreign or highbrow, but Will insists that she go with him, accusing her of being closed off to new experiences.
Lou is so nervous after their last outing that she plans everything meticulously, including three changes of clothes. Nathan and Will aren’t fans of the first two, but they’re both visibly impressed by how good she looks in the third. They find their seats without incident, although Lou has to use her teeth to remove a tag from Will’s collar, which draws stares. Lou ends up enjoying the concert more than she’s expecting—in fact, her experience is almost transcendent, and Will catches her crying at the end. After, they sit together in the car for a bit, talking. Will tells Lou that he doesn’t want to go inside just yet, because he wants to “be a man who has been to a concert with a girl in a red dress” for a few minutes. They sit together quietly. Then Lou flashes back to her night in the maze. She says that she never told Treena anything about what happened in the maze, only that Treena helped her find her clothes and then walked her home. Her parents never suspect anything has happened, but Lou tells us that she wasn’t the same after that day. She canceled her ticket to Australia, stopped hanging out with her friends, cut her hair, and started dressing differently from other people in town. Furthermore, she reveals, she’s never been back to the maze.
Few things seem to bother Will more than others’ habit of leaving him out. Back when Lou tried to piece together his broken picture frames, he reminded her that he was capable of making his own decisions, regardless of his disability. Lou more or less seems to have taken that to heart, but the day at the races ends up being upsetting for Will, since Lou failed to consult him about his feelings. This conflict arises partly because Lou, in her zeal to change Will’s mind about dying, takes charge of the situation and forgets that Will might feel insulted. At the same time, Will is ready to assume the worst of her intentions, since he is so anxious about people treating him with condescension or dismissal. As a result, he interprets Lou’s well-meaning surprise in the worst possible light.
Lou, meanwhile, is most upset by others’ treatment of Will. When strangers stare at him or are not accommodating of his needs, she feels increasingly protective. This causes her to lose her cool in the restaurant, even though this ends up drawing more attention to Will than he would prefer. Lou will face a few challenges when it comes to getting Will out of the house and convincing him to live, but one of those challenges will involve controlling her own emotions and balancing her feelings of protectiveness with the need to let Will navigate situations independently. The scene in which a group of veterans help Lou and Nathan with Will’s wheelchair is a particularly revealing one. When Lou simply asks for strangers to help her disabled friend, nobody seems interested, but when she lies and says that he is an injured veteran, this group leaps into action. Though they are helpful, the fact that Lou needs to lie to recruit them speaks to the strange place Will finds himself in as a disabled man. Because he was injured in completely coincidental situation, he commands none of the respect or camaraderie that he might if he had been injured in combat. Moreover, Will’s disability causes most people to think of him as emasculated—at least, Will fears that they will. The masculine bonds between the military men in this scene highlight Will’s exclusion from the social world of masculinity.
Lou’s choice to reveal a traumatic event about her past brings the reader closer to her, even while creating certain barriers between us and our narrator. On the one hand, we are given a chance to see that Lou’s cautiousness isn’t just because of her financial circumstances. Sure, she has practical reasons for staying put and making money, but she also has personal ones. This deepens her characterization. It also reveals the root of some of her complicated feelings towards Treena. As she noted previously, Treena is able to be casual about sex in a way that she isn’t, because of the implications that she suffered a sexual trauma in the maze. This plays a part in the envy she feels towards her sister. At the same time, Treena finds her and takes her home from the maze, which demonstrates how tight the sisters’ bond is. Though readers can make some assumptions about the nature of Lou’s traumatic experience, she also withholds a lot of information. This creates suspense and shows how deeply upset Lou still feels, but it also, strangely, gives her power over us. In previous parts of the novel, readers have had knowledge that Lou hasn’t had, thanks to the prologue and the chapter narrated by Mrs. Traynor. Now, though, we become aware that Lou knows something we don’t. This alters the power dynamic between the narrator and the reader, which may be Lou’s way of taking back some of the independence she lost that night. Because we now understand that Lou’s emotional trauma makes it hard for her to try new things, we have a better understanding of how her motives compare to Will’s. Will has a taste for adventure, but his physical trauma makes it hard for him to fulfill those dreams. Will is often frustrated when Lou hesitates to try new things, like concerts, because the obstacles and fears that hold her back are invisible to him. Still, this chapter puts on display the ways in which Lou and Will help each other overcome their respective barriers to having meaningful experiences. Lou helps Will navigate the theater and keeps him company so he doesn’t feel self-conscious. Will, for his part, dares Lou to open herself to attending a concert, even though she is afraid of putting herself in an emotionally vulnerable position.