Charlie’s beginning to enjoy school because he gets to hang out with Patrick and Sam’s group of friends, including the pretty, smart Mary Elizabeth. Patrick tells Charlie how he and Brad met: they started fooling around as juniors, but Brad would get high and drunk and use that as his excuse for pretending not to remember what he did with Patrick. Brad’s parents sent him to rehab because they didn’t want him not to get a football scholarship, and when Brad returned, he only saw Patrick in secret.
Bill gives Charlie his first B on an essay, which makes Charlie excited, since it means he’s improving. (Charlie gets A’s on his report card grades. These lower grades are just for the extra essays.) Charlie starts working for a fanzine called Punk Rocky, about punk rock and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Mary Elizabeth is in charge of the fanzine, and in charge of local showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where Patrick plays Frank ‘N Furter and Sam plays Janet. Sam is going out with a man named Craig, who’s in his twenties and a male model. Charlie’s in love with Sam, and he’s hurt and jealous.
Charlie discusses a science experiment that showed that rats would put up with a lot more pain for intense pleasure than for food. Charlie’s brother doesn’t call home very much from college, and when he does, he tells funny stories about how dumb the other guys on the football team are. Charlie likes to think that his brother is having a glamorous college experience. Charlie thinks about his dad’s glory days, especially a triumphant state championship high school baseball game. Charlie hope he’ll have old photographs that show his own happy memories.
Charlie’s brother bails on coming home for Thanksgiving because he’s too behind on his schoolwork, which makes Charlie’s mom deply upset. She takes Charlie shopping for clothes. She agrees to have Sam and Patrick over for dinner during the holidays, which makes Charlie excited, since the last friend he’d had over to dinner was Michael. Charlie remembers that he and Michael used to watch other people through their windows.
The holidays are a difficult time for Charlie’s family, because it reminds them all of Aunt Helen, and they each deal with the stress and sadness in their own ways. Charlie’s grandfather typically gets drunk and makes boisterous, racist comments. Charlie’s dad gets quietly very drunk and withdrawn. This Thanksgiving, they watch a tape of Charlie’s brother’s football game, and Charlie says that he’s thankful that his brother played football and that no one fought.
Charlie draws Patrick’s name in a Secret Santa, and he makes him a very thoughtful mix tape, which Patrick loves. His first Secret Santa gift is socks. He then starts to get all the components of a suit, one by one. Charlie gets Patrick a biography of Harvey Milk, the gay rights activist. At the Secret Santa party, Charlie reads Patrick a poem. Patrick gives Charlie the suit jacket, telling him that all great writers used to wear suits. Charlie gives all his friends thoughtful gifts, not just Patrick and Sam. For instance, he gives Mary Elizabeth money to print a color copy of her zine, Punk Rocky. Charlie gives Sam a record that Aunt Helen had given him, and Sam whispers to Charlie that she loves him. She gives Charlie a typewriter, and she gives Charlie his first kiss. As it turns out, Sam had been sexually abused, and she wants Charlie to have a loving first kiss, not an abusive one. Charlie gives all his friends thoughtful gifts, not just Patrick and Sam.