Though the Wrights only know the basics of Mia’s story, they give Mrs. Richardson the business card of a lawyer working on behalf of the Ryans. The lawyer had contacted them years earlier in order to hopefully get in touch with Mia, but the Wrights have not heard from her since Warren’s funeral. Mrs. Richardson tells the Wrights that she is sorry for all they’ve been through, and asks them if they would ever want to be in touch with Mia again, if they could be. They tell her that they might, though they think that “if [Mia] wanted to be found, she’d have gotten in touch.” When Mrs. Richardson asks if the Wrights are still angry with Mia after all these years, neither one of them is able to answer her.
Mrs. Richardson wields a great deal of power in this encounter, though she chooses not to use it—she could, at any moment, blow her own cover and offer the Wrights access to Mia’s whereabouts, and this potential for manipulation fills the scene with tension. When Mrs. Richardson asks Mia’s parents if they are still angry with Mia, they cannot—or simply will not—answer her. The pain of what they see as a major betrayal of the rules and order they provided for her as a child has not yet faded away.
Though the number of the law firm the Wrights referred her to is very old, Mrs. Richardson calls it. The receptionist who answers the phone verifies that the Ryans still have a lawyer at the firm on retainer, and offers to put Mrs. Richardson through to him. Startled, she hangs up the phone. Mrs. Richardson then reaches out to one of her contacts at the New York Times to ask for his help with some research. Within a week, he’s able to confirm that Joseph Ryan paid Mia’s hospital bills at St. Elizabeth’s in 1981 and 1982. Mrs. Richardson thinks about “what—if anything—[she should] do with this information.” She feels an unexpected “twinge of sympathy” for Mia, and briefly wonders what she herself would have done in Mia’s situation—but quickly ends that train of thought by deciding that she would never have let herself get into that situation in the first place. She plans to return to Shaker Heights the next morning.
Mrs. Richardson, having found concrete confirmation of the Wrights’ story, is once again in a powerful position. She could manipulate Mia with the help of the new information she’s obtained, and this allows her to feel she has regained a sense of order and control. However, the tiny bit of sympathy she feels for Mia delays her from acting on any of her impulses just yet. Mrs. Richardson attempts to empathize, rather than just sympathize, with Mia, by imagining what she herself would’ve done in Mia’s situation, but is completely unable to imagine a version of her life in which she strayed so far from the order of things.
Lexie is weak and woozy upon leaving the clinic, and is “having trouble processing what ha[s] just happened.” Though the plan had been for Pearl to drive Lexie back to the Richardson house, Pearl, realizing Lexie is in “no condition” to face her home or family, offers to take Lexie back to her and Mia’s house. Pearl promises that Mia will be able to keep Lexie’s secret, and Lexie bursts into tears.
Even though Lexie has just manipulated and partially deceived Pearl, Pearl is still full of genuine love and sympathy for Lexie, and chooses to look out for her in an act of altruism that will save Lexie from having to confront her family just yet.
When Pearl arrives at the house on Winslow with a weakened Lexie in tow, Mia is shocked, but quickly intuits what is going on from Lexie’s disposition and the discharge slip from the clinic she’s clutching. Mia feels a “flood of deep sympathy,” pulls Lexie into an embrace, then tucks her into bed and lets her rest. Mia has had “suspicions” about Lexie’s care with her own body—while emptying Lexie’s trash she found condom wrappers, and one afternoon, had arrived at the Richardson house to find Brian’s shoes in the hall. She never wanted to think too hard about what Lexie “nor what—by extension—Pearl might be up to.”
Mia’s fear that Lexie’s actions will inspire Pearl to follow a similar path rears its head again, even though Mia has been more involved in Pearl’s life lately. She is not far off base—Pearl does imitate and mirror Lexie, and even with Mia working in the Richardson house, Pearl is up to much more than her mother knows about. Mia must also confront the ways in which Lexie’s difficult decision mirrors her own past decisions, though Lexie’s choice has taken her away from motherhood, not towards it.
Lexie wakes up late in the afternoon—she is home alone with Mia, who feeds her chicken noodle soup. Lexie tells Mia that none of this was “supposed to happen,” just as Pearl arrives home to check on Lexie. A few minutes later, Izzy arrives for her afternoon photography session with Mia. She sees Lexie inside, and, suspicious, asks what she’s doing at the apartment. Lexie tells her that she came over to hang out with Pearl, and Pearl furthers the cover up by telling Izzy that they’re working on one of Lexie’s English papers. Mia tells Izzy that she’s not working this afternoon, and tells Izzy she’ll see her tomorrow.
Lexie, having disrupted the neat order of her life, is distraught and untethered. She is fearful of what her family—especially her mother—will say or do if they find out about her actions. Though Lexie hasn’t yet seen Mia as a maternal figure in the same way Izzy does, she seeks the guidance and redemption from her now that she wishes she could seek from her own mother.
Mia sends Lexie back to bed, though Lexie is worried about missing school. Mia tells her that she already called in, pretending to be Mrs. Richardson, and excused Lexie from class for the following day as well. Lexie asks Mia if she’s made the wrong decision by choosing to have an abortion. Mia tells her that she’ll always be sad, but that she hasn’t necessarily made the wrong choice—this is just “something [she’ll] have to carry.” Lexie returns to bed.
Further blurring the lines of motherhood and identity, Mia’s call into school posing as Mrs. Richardson reveals the fluid role of maternal figures. Mia isn’t Lexie’s mother, but she knows how to mother someone, and can offer Lexie the support and comfort (and lack of judgment) she needs at this difficult time—in addition to a healthy dose of the truth, which is more than even Lexie’s own mother might have been able to provide for her.
The next morning, Lexie wakes up to find Mia gone, and Pearl home eating breakfast. Lexie is feeling better. She asks where Mia slept the night before, as she slept in Mia’s bed. Pearl tells Lexie that her mother slept with her in her bed, but that they are used to sharing a bed. Lexie tells Pearl that she never thought Mia liked her, and wonders if she likes her now. Pearl teases Lexie, telling her “maybe.” Pearl recalls the night before—she and her mother slept in the same bed for the first time since moving to Shaker Heights, and Mia tried to talk to Pearl about sex, though it’s implied that Mia has less experience where sexual relationships are concerned than Pearl does now. Pearl shrugged the conversation off and went to sleep, while Mia, lying awake, contemplated how her daughter, in her teenage years, has begun to slip away from her.
Several reversals, disruptions, and inversions are at work in this passage. Lexie, never having thought much of Mia’s approval, now wants Pearl to give her the inside scoop, so to speak, on whether she’s gotten it—on whether or not Mia genuinely likes her. Meanwhile, Pearl and Mia face a new chapter in their relationship—one in which Pearl “needs” Mia less and seems to know more than her when it comes to certain things. Mia, sensing that Pearl is growing up, worries that her daughter will soon outgrow their life together, as rich and full of joy as it has been.
Lexie sleeps some more after Pearl leaves for school. In the afternoon, Mia comes home to work on her photos. Lexie overhears her speaking to Bebe on the phone, and when Lexie emerges from the room, the two discuss the case. Mia believes that, though some are calling her an “unfit mother,” Bebe deserves a second chance—she says that everyone makes mistakes and does things that they “regret.” Lexie, embarrassed, gathers her things. Mia asks her if she’ll tell Mrs. Richardson about the abortion. Lexie tells her that she might, one day. She tosses her discharge slip from the clinic into the garbage can before she leaves.
Lexie has made a difficult choice about motherhood, and now sees Bebe Chow’s choices in a different light. Mia, having also had to make a difficult choice about motherhood in the past, is able to see both Lexie and Bebe’s choices clearly, and is unable to offer either of them any assurance or redemption beyond her support. Lexie’s emotional journey in the wake of her abortion has led her to question the order of things.