That afternoon, as Pearl settles in for seventh period, she thinks of her plans to meet Trip after school, and to meet Lexie for a movie after that. She is sad about the end of her friendship with Moody, and wonders if things between them will ever return to “normal.” Just then the classroom phone rings, and Pearl’s teacher tells her that Mia is in the office, having come to school to pick her up. Pearl and Moody, despite the fact that they’re not speaking, share a look of mutual confusion before Pearl leaves the classroom.
Mia’s arrival at school signals a major disruption, one that Pearl had thought she was done with forever. The look they share shows that Pearl and Moody’s relationship was more than just a one-sided attraction—in a moment of uncertainty they still look to each other for support and answers.
When Pearl leaves the building, she sees her mother’s car parked outside—Mia is waiting for her. Mia asks her if she has anything important in her locker—she doesn’t, and Mia tells her it’s time to go; they have to leave Shaker Heights today. Pearl is distraught, and reminds Mia of her promise to stay. Pearl thinks of the Richardsons, and imagines that if she could get to their house, they would take her in as one of her own and “never let her go.” Mia apologizes but insists, and Pearl follows her to the car.
Pearl had taken comfort in the fact that she and her mother were staying put in Shaker Heights—that comfort, and the joy of having formed friendships and relationships which allowed her to explore her identity, is disrupted completely by Mia’s announcement that they are leaving. Pearl is desperate to stay not just in Shaker Heights, but within the halo of order, comfort, and familiarity that the Richardsons have provided her—she believes that they would accept her as one of their own, not knowing all of the many betrayals that have happened behind the scenes, and how cruel and “unmotherly” Mrs. Richardson has behaved.
Back at the house on Winslow, Pearl tearfully packs her belongings—in Shaker, the two of them have “acquired more things than ever before.” She furiously reminds Mia of her promise that they would stay put, throwing a book against the wall. Pearl demands to know why they are leaving—she will not go, she says, unless her mother gives her a reason. Mia sits Pearl down and tells her the story of her past—she has been “thinking about how to tell [her],” she says, “for longer than [she] can imagine.” Pearl is still, shell-shocked and excited, as Mia begins her tale.
Mia knows that her daughter deserves an explanation—for their departure, but also for the reason behind every departure they’ve ever made. Pearl has been waiting all her life, it seems, for the answer, and now that she is finally about to get it, she is both excited by the prospect of understanding her identity and fearful of the disruption in her life that finally knowing it might cause.
Mia finishes telling Pearl the “outline” of her past, knowing that the details will “trickle out” over later months and years. Pearl asks why Mia has decided to tell her now. Mia does her best to explain Mrs. Richardson’s fury and her threats, sad to ruin Pearl’s admiration of someone she “adored.” Mia concedes that Mrs. Richardson is right—the Ryans would have given Pearl a “wonderful” life. Mia offers to bring Pearl to New York to meet them, but Pearl decides that she is not yet ready. Pearl asks about her grandparents, and tells Mia that “someday” they should go see them together. Mia embraces Pearl, realizing that home is not a place, but her daughter. The two of them resume packing.
Pearl is overwhelmed by the truth of her past and her identity, and the reason for both her life’s constant disruptions and their current circumstances. Though Pearl is certainly interested in discovering more about her roots, the awful task at hand—leaving Shaker Heights and, by proxy, the Richardsons behind—takes all of her focus. When Pearl learns of Mrs. Richardson’s cruelty she loses a mother-figure she had looked up to, but in this moment Pearl and Mia reconnect and find a home in each other.
There is a knock at the door—Mia answers it, and finds that it is Izzy. Izzy is confused because the door has never been locked before. She asks if Bebe is still inside, but Mia tells her she has gone home. Izzy asks if Pearl is home—she has been trying to catch up with Pearl all day, after failing to reach her by phone the night before. She wants to warn Pearl of what Moody has said about her, and of the fact that Mrs. Richardson knows about her and Trip. Izzy can tell something is wrong with Mia, but isn’t sure what. Mia decides to neither lie to Izzy nor tell her the truth, instead promising that she’ll tell Pearl Izzy stopped by. Mia, fearing that she’s “failed” Izzy and unable to think of a proper way to say goodbye, reminds Izzy of what she told her about the prairie fire the other day, and asks her if she understands. Izzy “[i]sn’t sure” that she does, but nods anyway. Mia then embraces Izzy and sends her on her way.
Izzy knows that there is some kind of disturbance going on; she and Mia have established an order to their days, and something isn’t adding up. Mia’s guilt over having to leave Izzy without being able to explain to her why causes her to attempt to leave things on a positive note. By reminding Izzy of the anecdote about the prairie fire, Mia is attempting to leave her with a bit of wisdom about the pain of loss and the beauty of renewal. Mia doesn’t realize, however, that Izzy will soon take her words literally and use them as fuel for her largest disruption yet. Pearl has just lost Mrs. Richardson as a mother figure, and now Izzy loses Mia.
Mia and Pearl continue packing, the familiarity of leaving making the act almost automatic. While Pearl packs up the car, Mia sets an envelope on the kitchen table. When Pearl asks what’s inside, Mia tells her that it’s a good-bye to the Richardsons; a set of photographs. “Some pictures,” she says, “belong to the person inside them.” Together Pearl and Mia shut off the lights and leave.
Pearl and Mia are so used to their transient lifestyle that, paradoxically, it has become a kind of order to them. Snapping back into the routine is easy, hinting at the fact that the permanence and stability of Shaker Heights, was the real disruption for the two of them.
Across town, Bebe sits on the curb across the street from the McCulloughs’ house. She imagines Linda McCullough bathing May Ling and putting her to bed as she waits “for the light in her daughter’s room to go out.”
Bebe longs for her daughter and is unable to surrender her identity as a mother. She considers the order of the McCulloughs’ bedtime routine as she plans a disruption.
When Izzy returns home, she finds the house empty. Moody and Trip were home earlier; they fought over Pearl verbally and then physically. Trip left for a friend’s house, while Moody headed to a nearby lake. Izzy calls her mother to tell her that Mia has not shown up to prepare dinner, and Mrs. Richardson tells her that Mia can’t make it tonight. When Moody arrives back home, she asks him where everyone is. He tells her he doesn’t know, but that Lexie might be at Serena’s. Izzy asks him if what she overheard about Pearl and Trip is true. Moody tells her that it is, and that it’s “not [his] job to lie for them.”
Izzy senses that something major has occurred—both within her own family and within the Warren’s family, and, perhaps, even between the two. As she attempts to get some answers out of Moody, his sullen attitude reveals that he has had more to do with whatever problem has occurred than he is letting on. Moody once again shows his immaturity and the jealous nature of his relationship with Trip and Pearl.
Izzy tells Moody that she knows Pearl didn’t have an abortion. She tries to think of whether Pearl had acted unusual at all in the past few months, and realizes that Lexie’s behavior while their mother was out of town was odd—she puts the pieces of the puzzle together and realizes Lexie had the abortion. Izzy chastises Moody for having thrown Pearl under the bus by revealing her relationship with Trip. Moody tells her that Pearl deserved it for “sneaking around with Trip.” Izzy tells Moody that Mrs. Richardson will blame Mia for everything. Moody says that Mia should have raised Pearl to be more “responsible.” Izzy throws a soda can at Moody’s head and leaves.
Izzy and Moody, who have often been on the same side, find themselves at odds when it comes to Mia and Pearl. Moody, his pride hurt by Pearl’s rejection of him in favor of Trip, doesn’t seem to really care what happens to the Warrens—even if he has been in some way responsible for the horrible miscommunication that has driven their families apart. In a time of conflict Moody also seems to fall back on his mother’s self-assurances, judging that Mia and Pearl’s problems stem from a lack of “responsibility” on their part. Izzy is then enraged by his lack of empathy.
Izzy goes to Serena’s house, where she confronts Lexie about her abortion. Izzy tells Lexie that Mrs. Richardson thinks Pearl had the abortion. Lexie thinks this is “funny,” and tells Izzy that Pearl “didn’t mind” that Lexie made the appointment under her name. She entreats Izzy to keep her abortion a secret. Izzy tells Lexie that she is selfish, and leaves. She sets off on foot for the house on Winslow, and knows before she goes inside that something is wrong. She rings the doorbell and Mr. Yang answers. He tells her that Mia and Pearl left just a few minutes ago. Izzy returns home, retrieves the key to their apartment, and then walks back over to Winslow Road, where she goes upstairs, unlocks the door to the apartment, and confirms for herself that Pearl and Mia are “gone for good.”
Izzy realizes that Lexie effectively framed Pearl for her abortion, and, once she has found Lexie, chastises her sister for having manipulated Pearl without thinking of the consequences. Like Moody, Lexie seems indifferent to the hurt and confusion she has caused—particularly in comparison to her fear of getting herself in trouble—further upsetting Izzy. Izzy realizes that her entire family has manipulated the Warrens for selfish ends, with disastrous consequences. Izzy’s determination to find out what is going on takes her all across town on a relentless quest for the truth—and when her worst fears are confirmed, she is devastated.
By nine the next morning, the Richardson house has nearly emptied out. Mr. Richardson has gone to the office, Lexie is at Serena’s, Trip has gone to play basketball, and Moody has gone to Pearl’s house to apologize. Izzy believes her mother is at the rec center, swimming laps. Overwhelmed by the unfairness of Pearl and Mia’s situation, and how they were “chased away by her family,” Izzy runs through the many betrayals in her head. Izzy felt happy at Mia’s house, and was allowed to be herself. She cannot “imagine going back to life as it had been before,” stifled by the order and perfection of her home and her city.
As Izzy runs through her family’s many manipulations of Pearl and Mia, she feels her anger mounting. Mourning the loss of the first place where Izzy had ever felt a way of being that made sense to her and an identity she felt secure in, Izzy feels her entire life has been disrupted, and that she no longer fits even marginally into the strict order it had once followed. She then entirely blames her family for this situation, and feels helpless in the face of such a complex tangle of problems.
After having spent the entire night awake and planning, Izzy barely thinks at all as she retrieves a can of gasoline from the garage, pours neat circles of accelerant onto everyone’s beds, sets the empty can outside her parents’ bedroom, and retrieves a box of matches. She remembers Mia’s words about the prairie fire, and lights the match and drops it onto Lexie’s bed as she plans to attempt to catch up with Mia and Pearl.
Izzy feels there is no way backward or forward—she feels she is the only righteous person in a family of hypocrites, and that her place is with Pearl and Mia. Inspired by Mia’s words about the prairie fire and her earlier encouragement of Izzy to take control of her circumstances, Izzy begins her biggest and final disruption.