Pearl feels that everything around her lately is “saturated with sex.” The Lewinsky scandal has just broken, and all through school students are cracking jokes and telling stories about President Clinton’s affair. Pearl realizes that everyone around her knows more about sex than she does.
The presence of yet another scandal (President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky and the impeachment proceedings accompanying it) results in Pearl having to reckon, in a unique way and independently of the other characters, with her own identity.
Pearl arrives at the Richardson household one afternoon to find it empty except for Trip. She is excited to be alone in the house with him: anything, she thinks, might happen. She joins Trip on the couch and helps him with his math homework, and then the two begin to kiss. Pearl takes Trip by the hand and leads him upstairs to his bedroom, and the two have sex. Pearl is eager and excited; it is her first time. She is “thrilled” by the effect she has on Trip. Shortly after it’s all over, the two of them get dressed and Pearl leaves, afraid that she will somehow look different to her mother and to her friends. Trip tells her that he’ll see her tomorrow.
The beginning of Pearl and Trip’s relationship—and the fact that it is Pearl who initiates much of it—signals a moment of growth and shows the comfort she draws from being around the Richardsons. Pearl has been described by almost every character up to this point as “shy,” but the initiative she takes with Trip shows that there is much more to Pearl than meets the eye: she has manipulated a situation, and an entire relationship, based on her desires.
That night, Pearl is relieved to find that Mia doesn’t seem to notice anything is different, though Pearl spent all afternoon checking her reflection in the bathroom mirror. As soon as she and Mia are done eating, Pearl goes to her bedroom to “mull” over her afternoon and what her and Trip’s status might be. The following morning, when Moody arrives at the house on Winslow to walk her to school, she cannot meet his eye.
Pearl is relieved to realize that though having sex has been a pivotal experience for her, and has changed the way she perceived herself, it has not changed the way people see her. Her friendship with Moody, though, which has defined so much of her time in Shaker Heights, has experienced a disruption.
Pearl feigns normalcy throughout the school day, both excited and afraid to run into Trip in the hallway. After school, Pearl tells Lexie and Moody that she isn’t feeling well, and goes home instead of to the Richardson’s house—she doesn’t want to see Trip again for the first time in front of the two of them. The following day after school, Trip approaches Pearl at her locker, and asks her what she’s up to. She tells him that she has plans with Moody, “unless [Trip] has a better idea.” Both of them run silently through all the places they could possibly go to be alone, and Trip quickly comes up with an idea. He pages his friend Tim Michaels, and Tim tells Trip that his basement is free if Trip wants to use it. Pearl intuits that Trip has brought many girls to Tim’s basement, but Trip assures her that she is the only one he wants to be there with now. Pearl decides she doesn’t care about the other girls anyway.
Pearl’s initial insecurity about seeing Trip again stems from her fear of confronting him in front of his family, and having to portray two identities at once: the Pearl the Richardsons know, and the Pearl that Trip now knows. When they do meet again, though relieved to find that the other is still interested and excited, Trip and Pearl are each fearful of disrupting the careful relationship that has formed between their families. The two units are so bound up in one another that the revelation of an even deeper intimacy between Pearl and Trip would surely upset those closest to each of them—especially Lexie and Moody, who each feel they have a claim on Pearl.
Once at Tim Michaels’s house, Pearl feels guilty, remembering that Moody will be waiting for her outside the science wing at school for their walk home together. However, as soon Trip opens the door and takes her hand, she forgets her worries. After the two have sex again, Pearl asks Trip if they’re dating, or if it’s “just a thing.” She wants to know, she says, what it is she’s “getting into.” Trip tells her that he doesn’t want to see anyone else, and Pearl believes he is being sincere. She tells him that Moody and Lexie will “freak out” upon hearing that they’re together, so Trip suggests they keep their relationship a secret, and Pearl agrees.
Pearl’s guilt almost seems to fuel her desire for Trip even more—she has witnessed, over and over, each of the Richardsons shamelessly taking what they want, and now is doing the same for herself. She longs to pin down the nature of her and Trip’s relationship, but ultimately decides that it isn’t worth disrupting the relationship she has built with the rest of the Richardson family.
Tim Michaels hounds Trip to tell him who the new “mystery” girl is as Trip sneaks off every day to meet Pearl at Tim’s house. Though Pearl longs to tell Lexie, she knows that the whole school would know “within a week.” Pearl thinks of Moody, and knows there is no way she could ever tell him—she is aware of his feelings for her, and remembers a moment when the two of them went to see Titanic and he took her hand. She begins lying to Moody, leaving notes on his locker telling him that she needs to stay late at school when really she’s sneaking off to meet Trip. Mr. Yang is the only person who sees Trip and Pearl together, one afternoon when they are making out in Trip’s Jeep. Mr. Yang recalls his own youth in Hong Kong, and thinks that “the young are the same, always and everywhere.”
The tension between Pearl and Moody, which existed, at least for Moody, from the very start of their friendship, has now become unbearable. Rather than disrupt the friendship she’s built with Moody, Pearl chooses to lie, manipulating the circumstances of their friendship to accommodate her dalliance with Trip without sacrificing her hold on Moody. Mr. Yang’s role as a silent observer of Trip and Pearl’s affair—the only observer, at this point—both demonstrates how well they’re hiding their relationship and allows for a commentary on the fluid nature of identity and the “sameness” shared by “the young.”
Lexie and Brian have been having sex as often as they can since Halloween, often at Brian’s house but occasionally in Lexie’s car beneath a quilt. Lexie dreams of a future with Brian. The two of them are irresponsible when it comes to condom use, and one day Lexie decides to take a pregnancy test—it’s positive.
Lexie’s “baby fever” from the previous chapters has not prepared her for the reality of a pregnancy. Though Lexie is inching toward adulthood, she is still irresponsible, and has created a major problem as a result.
At first, Lexie believes she’ll be able to keep the baby. After raising the subject of a baby with Brian, talking first about May Ling and then about their own future babies, Brian shuts her down quickly, telling her that “everybody would say, oh look, another black kid, knocked a girl up before he graduated.” Realizing that Brian is right, and that teen pregnancy is not at all the Shaker Heights way, Lexie concedes to herself that she must have an abortion.
Lexie realizes she won’t be able to fulfill her dream of attending Yale and her dream of being a mother at the same time—and, hearing Brian’s concerns, realizes there are layers to the issue that she’s selfishly never even considered. A baby would disrupt her and Brian’s entire lives, and Lexie knows that she must make a difficult decision.
At dinner, Mrs. Richardson tells her family that she’ll be traveling to Pittsburgh for research on an article she’s writing, much to Lexie’s relief. The following morning, Lexie pretends to be running late and then, when the house is empty, calls a local clinic and makes an appointment for the first day of her mother’s trip.
The Richardsons are quickly devolving, one by one, into a web of secrets and lies that they must keep from one another. Lexie and Mrs. Richardson, the two members of the family most alike, are especially mirroring one another’s behavior and falling into similar patterns.
The night before the appointment, and before her mother leaves for Pittsburgh, Lexie calls Pearl and tells her that she “need[s]” her—she is having an abortion. Pearl is in disbelief, but doesn’t judge Lexie, and agrees to accompany her. In the morning, Lexie picks Pearl up from the house on Winslow. Pearl has told Mia that Lexie is giving her a ride to school. Pearl asks Lexie if she is sure about her decision. Lexie experiences a moment of panic, but decides that she is.
Lexie is leaning heavily on Pearl and is making herself vulnerable. Pearl responds with altruism and open-mindedness, though she does question Lexie in the morning. Lexie is facing the biggest decision of her life thus far, and Pearl wants to make sure that she is secure in it—otherwise, it could derail her happiness in a big way.
At the abortion clinic, Lexie gives the receptionist Pearl’s name—she has made the appointment for herself under Pearl Warren. Furthermore, she tells the receptionist that Pearl is her sister, and will be responsible for driving her home. Pearl is upset at the fact that Lexie used her as an alias, but Lexie tells her it’s “just a name,” and then Pearl begrudgingly agrees to help Lexie to fill out her intake forms. When it is Lexie’s turn she heads back into the clinic. Pearl wishes that they really were sisters, and had nothing to hide from each other.
Lexie has thoughtlessly co-opted Pearl’s identity for her own selfish reasons—to disguise herself from being stigmatized or seen as falling out of the order of Shaker Heights. A manipulator just like her mother, Lexie knows that Pearl will go along with whatever she asks of her, and Lexie feels entitled to Pearl’s help and even her identity (in the form of her name). Pearl nonetheless feels a great tenderness for Lexie, and wishes that their identities and relationship to one another really were bound by blood.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Richardson has arrived at the Wrights’ home in Pittsburgh after driving excitedly nonstop for three hours. She introduces herself using her real name, but claims to be writing an article on “promising teen athletes whose careers were cut short,” and proceeds to interview them about Warren. Mrs. Richardson, finding the Wrights to be easy interview subjects, quickly turns the conversation to Mia, asking the Wrights to provide her with Mia’s contact information—but the Wrights admit that they have been estranged from Mia for many years. The Wrights almost eagerly tell Mrs. Richardson that they cut ties with Mia when she came home for Warren’s funeral pregnant, carrying a baby for a couple called the Ryans.
Mrs. Richardson, thrilled by the prospect of uncovering the truth about Mia, arrives at the Wright home, where she disrupts the order of their lives and reminds them of their difficult past. Mrs. Richardson lies to the Wrights in order to manipulate them into providing her with answers as to Mia’s background. It is revealed that it was Mia’s role as a mother—even as a surrogate mother—which destroyed her relationship with her family and drove a lasting wedge between them.