Tara describes an incident which happened during the summer months, almost a month after Tyler left home. Her seventeen-year-old brother Luke spills gasoline on his jeans, and then accidentally sets himself on fire. Panicking, he causes the fire to spread from his clothing to the dry grass of the surrounding area. The incident occurs a short distance away from the house, and Tara is alone when her brother arrives, screaming in pain from his burns. She does what she can to help him, submerging his leg in ice and water. Her mother eventually comes home and treats the burn herself despite the severity of the injury, and Tyler's intense pain.
Tara breaks from the memory to tell the reader that writing down the memory causes her to realize something. Since Luke had set the grass on fire shortly after he was injured, she wonders who put out the fire and prevented it from consuming the surrounding area. She wonders whether it is possible that Luke was with their father when he caught on fire, rather than alone as she has always assumed. Tara asks her brother Richard, who tells her that he remembers the story of their father sending his burned son back to the house alone so that he could put out the fire before it spread. In Luke's memory, he was with their father when the injury happened, but Gene took him back to the house and helped him before then going back to deal with the fire.
By age 11, Tara is eager to get away from working at the scrapyard, so she begins babysitting in the nearby town. One of her clients, Mary, is a skilled pianist, and Tara learns to play piano in exchange for her services. Mary suggests that Tara also start taking dance lessons, and Tara's mother helps her to do so while hiding the lessons from her father. It is not until the day of Tara's Christmas recital that Gene hears his daughter has been dancing, and both parents go to watch Tara perform. Afterward, knowing Gene will be outraged, Tara's mother pretends to have been shocked by the recital and the costumes.
Since Tara can no longer study dance, her mother takes her to voice lessons instead. When Tara sings a hymn at church one day, she receives a lot of praise, and her father shows real pride in her talents. When Tara's voice teacher suggests she audition for a role in a local production of Annie , Gene is surprisingly supportive.
Tara's role as Annie takes place in summer 1999, shortly before she turns 13. Her father is preoccupied with his belief that January 1, 2000 will create chaos and collapse, and focuses all of the family's energy on preparing and stockpiling. Meanwhile, Tara's success in her role as Annie leads her to continue to act and sing, although she always feels uncomfortable and ill at ease with anyone outside of her family. Through her performing, she meets a boy named Charles who is friendly to her. Gene uncharacteristically gets a cable television for the family, and Tara wonders if this is a sign that he anticipates the end is coming with New Year's. However, on New Year's Eve, Gene is astounded to find that none of his convictions come to pass, and the world continues on as normal.
After New Year's, Gene lapses into a depression, so Faye plans another family trip to Arizona. Once again, the family is involved in a car accident on the way home, while driving under dangerous conditions. Tara suffers a neck injury. A short time after the accident, her older brother Shawn moves home again in order to help her father.