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Patrick, Sam, and Charlie run up a hill to the eighteenth green of the golf course, running into the sunset, and Charlie is happy. They go to The Rocky Horror Picture Show for the last time, and Patrick decides to play Frank ‘N Furter for old times’ sake. Charlie persuades his sister to go to the show, and she and her new boyfriend dance the “Time Warp.” Afterwards, Charlie goes to a party at Craig’s, and he serves as the deejay, which he loves, since it allows him to participate and observe at the same time.
On prom night, Charlie is alone in his room, facing the fact that all of his friends are graduating. Sam is going to be at a college prep program all summer, and Charlie is especially sad about her leaving. Charlie is feeling lonelier and lonelier as each day passes and graduation approaches. Bill invites Charlie to his house to spend an afternoon with Bill and his girlfriend.
Charlie reports to his “friend” that Sam and Craig have broken up. Apparently, Craig had been cheating on Sam for a while. Mary Elizabeth’s boyfriend, Peter, knew about it, and he tried to get Craig to tell her the truth, but Craig always had excuses why he wouldn’t tell. Peter went along with Craig’s logic until after the prom, but at the after-prom party, Peter heard Sam talking to Mary Elizabeth about long-term plans with Craig, and Peter convinced Craig to tell Sam. Charlie claims that he’s not happy about Craig and Sam breaking up.
Charlie goes to Bill’s house, where Bill and his girlfriend serve salad and pasta, and they play records. Bill tells Charlie how special he is, and that he considers Charlie to be not just a student but a friend. The last person who called Charlie special was Aunt Helen.
Charlie rides the bus home on the last day of school and remembers all the bus rides of is past. Charlie’s brother comes home from college. Charlie mentions the great things that the sportscaster had said about Charlie’s brother, but when Charlie’s parents ask Charlie where he’d been talking to the sportscaster, Charlie realizes that he’s made a mistake, but luckily, people don’t ask too many questions. Charlie’s relatives come to the house for a graduation brunch to celebrate Charlie’s sister’s graduation. Charlie’s grandfather makes some racist remarks, but other than that, things go pretty smoothly. Charlie’s sister is the salutatorian, so she gets to make a speech.
That night, after Charlie’s relatives leave, he goes to hang out with Patrick and Sam at a dance club downtown, and Charlie waxes poetic about driving through the tunnel. At the dance club, Charlie dances with Sam. After the club, they go to Peter’s apartment, and Charlie gives his friends gifts. He gives Patrick and Sam the books that he’s been reading all year, along with a card saying that he wants Patrick and Sam to have his favorite books because they’re his favorite people. Sam confesses to Charlie that she’s scared to go to college, but says that they can call each other if things get too overwhelming. On the next day, the last day of school, Charlie approaches the kid in the locker next to him and introduces himself for the first time. The kid says, “I know.”
Charlie finally finds the perfect synthesis of his desire to participate in his own life and his talents as a listener when he deejays the party at Craig’s house. Throughout the book, Charlie makes mix tapes for himself and his friends to commemorate specific moments or to help create a certain frame of mind. As the deejay, Charlie gets to respond to the mood of those around him and act intuitively to enhance and enrich others’ experiences. He’s not exactly in the middle of the dance, but on the other hand, he has more power than anybody, since he’s the one who controls the dance.
Read more about the significance of mix tapes in the novel.
As Charlie’s entire friend group prepares to leave him, Charlie has to prepare himself to be able to move on while staying behind. Charlie’s relationship to Sam and Craig’s relationship is complicated. On the one hand, Charlie wants what will make Sam happy, and therefore, he’s sad when she and Craig break up, because he can see the pain that this causes her, and the betrayal she feels in learning that Craig has been cheating on her. On the other hand, it’s difficult to believe that Charlie can be wholeheartedly, sincerely displeased that Sam and Craig have broken up, given that he’s been jealous of Craig the whole time. But Sam and Craig’s breakup does suddenly gives Charlie the much more real opportunity to express his desires to Sam, which is a terrifying concept. When Sam has another boyfriend, Charlie has to repress his love, which is a safer position for him emotionally, since he doesn’t have to deal with the repercussions of his strong feelings. But if Sam is available, and there aren’t barriers in the way, Charlie has only himself to blame if he doesn’t speak up for himself.
Bill’s life is presented as a possible future for Charlie, and as an example of the impact that Charlie has on those around him. Charlie may think of himself as a passive wallflower, but he also has a strong positive impact on others. Charlie presents glimpses of Bill’s life through his letters. Just as Bill has helped Charlie, Charlie has also helped Bill by giving him a sense of deep importance and purpose. As Charlie has been coming out of his shell, Bill has also been working through his own angst and indecision. Instead of running away from his talents as a teacher by going to New York to be a playwright, Charlie has helped Bill realize the impact he can make on lives by mentoring students. Having Bill as a mentor also helps Charlie work through the pain of no longer having Aunt Helen in his life, since Bill motivates Charlie and cultivates his talents as an individual. Bill is non-threatening personally, since he never makes any sort of advance towards Charlie. Bill invites Charlie over with Bill’s girlfriend, after all, which takes away any whiff of inappropriate behavior that might have been suggested.
When Charlie introduces himself to his locker-mate on the last day of school, he is actively trying to pursue a future after his senior friends have all left. Charlie always assumes that he’s invisible, but the kid next to him says that he knows who he is. The tone of this interaction is ambiguous. On the one hand, Charlie is taking a step forward by proactively meeting new people and making a life for himself beyond his old friends. The other kid’s acknowledgment that he knows who Charlie is suggests that Charlie isn’t quite the hidden wallflower he makes himself out to be. On the other hand, the fact that this kid knew who Charlie was yet never bothered to reach out to him confirms Charlie’s status in school as either invisible or a freak. It’s unclear whether Charlie will launch into a new, more well-adjusted version of himself, or Charlie has been recognized but ignored the whole time.