Pearl completes Lexie’s essay within a week. Both Mia and Moody are “uneasy” that Lexie has wrangled this favor from Pearl. Pearl starts dressing in Lexie’s clothes and borrowing Lexie’s makeup and jewelry, further worrying Mia. Lexie submits her application to Yale, and wants to celebrate by attending a Halloween party at a girl named Stacie Perry’s house. She invites Pearl to come along. Pearl is hesitant, never having been to a high school party before, but when Trip tells her that he will be there as well, she is convinced. The party is the “hot topic” at school the entire week leading up to it.
As Pearl is becoming more and more absorbed by the Richardsons’ world and Lexie Richardson specifically, Mia and Moody—those closest to her—fear she will abandon her own personality. Pearl, however, longs for the disruption in her identity and the chance at a new one that Lexie represents. Pearl’s entanglements with Lexie and Trip deepen as Halloween approaches—a time when disruption and false identities are made literal through costumes and mischief.
Izzy and Moody are not invited to the party, as they’re underclassmen. Moody is disappointed that Pearl will be ditching him, but Pearl promises him that they will spend the following weekend together. Since a costume for the party is required, Lexie suggests that she, Pearl, and Serena go together as Charlie’s Angels. The party is full of high schoolers “dry hump[ing]” in dark corners and doing body shots off of one another’s stomachs. Trip is there, dressed as a devil, and Serena explains that Stacie thinks Trip is “fine.” While Pearl plans what she will talk to Trip about, trying to think of something “sultry and witty,” something that Lexie might say, Trip disappears.
Even though the teens in Shaker Heights usually value order, there’s still room for the chaos of a massive party and the excitement it brings, and it probably seems especially liberating because of their carefully-planned daily lives. Even Pearl has never been to a “real” high school party, and is overwhelmed, just as she was overwhelmed by her first visit to the Richardson home. Pearl wants to earn Trip’s attention and affection, but doesn’t know how to do so in a way that doesn’t erase her own identity or subsume it into some else’s (like Lexie’s).
Lexie is having a great night grinding with Serena on the dance floor. Her boyfriend Brian arrives dressed as “a guy who just mailed his application to Princeton” and the two of them sneak off to have sex for the first time in Lexie’s car, while Pearl waits alone in the kitchen for any sign of Trip. When she’s unable to find him, Lexie, or Serena, she calls Moody from the Perry house’s landline.
Lexie breaks the “rules” by having sex with her boyfriend—a major act of rebellion against Mrs. Richardson’s ordered world. Meanwhile, Pearl’s feeling of being safeguarded by the Richardsons dissipates when they each abandon her in pursuit of their own pleasures.
Shortly thereafter, Moody arrives in his mother’s car to pick Pearl up. He is disappointed in her behavior, tells her that Trip couldn’t help her home because he was probably having sex with someone. Moody asks Pearl if she can at last see what his family is really like—they’re the kind of people who would abandon her at a party to pursue their own vices. It is nearly one in the morning when Moody drops Pearl at her house, and she has just missed her curfew.
Moody, nervous that Lexie and Trip are becoming the only objects of Pearl’s affection, attempts to manipulate Pearl’s vision of the rest of his family. Though he’s not entirely wrong—Lexie and Trip did abandon her—his motivations are not entirely altruistic, or born of a desire to help Pearl and make her feel better.
The Halloween party goes on until well past three in the morning, and the Richardson children “creep home” in the middle of the night. Lexie feels different, and afterwards looks different to Pearl, who feels that everything Lexie does from this point on is “tinged with sex.” For now, though, Moody tells Pearl that she smells a little bit like smoke and alcohol, and offers her a mint. Pearl goes upstairs and Mia, upset, sends Pearl straight to bed. She tells herself that “this is what teens do,” and doesn’t bother confronting Pearl about the party the next morning, though she wishes that she could know what exactly Pearl, and all of the Richardson children, get up to when no adults are around.
The disruptive effect that Lexie’s lost virginity will have on her and Pearl’s friendship, as well as Lexie’s own view of and interaction with the world around her, is foreshadowed here. Meanwhile, Mia realizes that her daughter’s identity is shifting, and she feels Pearl drifting away from her. Mia has always seen her daughter as somehow separate from other children and teens her age, and now must confront the fact that Pearl has succumbed to some “normal” teen behavior.
Conveniently, the following Tuesday, Mrs. Richardson arrives at the rental house to check up on Mia and assure that she’s “settled in” all right. She notes that the house is clean, though there is not a lot of furniture and what is there is mismatched and shabby. She inspects Mia’s photographs, which hang on the walls and, finding them alluring but disturbing, offers to buy a piece. Mia delivers what Mrs. Richardson perceives to be a “lukewarm” thanks.
Mrs. Richardson’s visit comes under the guise of altruism, but is really conducted with the purpose of manipulating Mia imposing order on anything that isn’t quite to Mrs. Richardson’s liking. Upon seeing the apartment, Mrs. Richardson is actually impressed by Mia’s art, but still views it as far outside the norm and, for this reason, slightly upsetting. Mrs. Richardson wants to buy a piece nonetheless in order to continue to appear altruistic, and to help her “struggling” tenant—but note that her generosity is entirely dependent on how grateful Mia seems to her.
Mrs. Richardson asks whether Mia sells enough of her art to make a living, and Mia divulges that she has a part-time job at Lucky Palace, a local Chinese restaurant. Mrs. Richardson reminds herself that “artists d[on’t] think like normal people.” She reflects on her own orderly life, regimented meals and exercise, and the belief that “the proper functioning of the world depend[s] upon her compliance.” Mia shirks the rules Mrs. Richardson sticks so closely to, and Mrs. Richardson thinks to herself that she must keep watch on Mia as if she is keeping watch on a “dangerous beast.”
Mrs. Richardson’s wariness about Mia and her equation of disorder or uniqueness with danger highlights the borderline fearful way in which she clings to order and to the familiar, and rejects any identity that is not similar to her own. Mia’s side job at the Lucky Palace, and the fact that Mrs. Richardson now knows about it, will lead to an important plot point later on.
Mrs. Richardson notes aloud that Mia keeps a very clean and tidy house, and then, struck with an idea, offers to hire Mia to clean the Richardson home a few hours each day. Mia once again accepts Mrs. Richardson’s “generous” offer, wary at first but then genuinely excited at the chance to reinsert herself into Pearl’s daily life and to see what she’s up to when she’s at the Richardsons’. She offers Mrs. Richardson a glowing thanks, and Mrs. Richardson smiles.
Mrs. Richardson’s next offer is even more falsely altruistic than her first. She doesn’t approve of the job Mia has taken to supplement her income, and gives her one that seems more orderly and dignified. Yet any reluctance Mia might have felt at accepting this kind of charity dissipates when she realizes that she will be able to observe Pearl in her new environment.