On the first Friday of February, Holling and his family prepare to attend the formal presentation of the Chamber of Commerce Businessman of 1967 award. Holling and Heather gripe about having to wear flowers, and Holling's dad sneers at Heather that this is her chance to be a flower child. When Holling and his sister go upstairs and argue about flushing their flowers down the toilet, they hear a sudden crash from the Perfect Living Room. The ceiling has fallen in, crushing the piano and the furniture and staining the carpet with moldy plaster. Cursing, Holling's dad shreds his white carnation. Finally they leave the mess, and Holling gives his dad his own carnation when they arrive at the Kiwanis Club.
When the Perfect House begins to decay from the inside, it symbolizes how Holling's family is undergoing a similar process of decay. Holling’s father continues to be rude to Heather and belittle her beliefs, and as he shreds his carnation in anger, it shows just how caught up he is in preserving the look of his family and of his home.
Heather excuses herself to the bathroom when they get inside and flushes her flower, grinning triumphantly at Holling. Holling sits uncomfortably through dinner and then watches his dad accept the award, still red in the face with anger. When the Hoodhood family gets home that night, Holling's dad calls the workmen who fixed the ceiling the first time and insists they return to fix their shoddy work the next day, even if it's a Saturday. His threats are effective; they show up the next morning. At school, the ceiling in Mrs. Baker's classroom has problems as well: it now sags and bulges in places as a result of housing Sycorax and Caliban, who are still at large.
The fact that the workmen heed Mr. Hoodhood's threats and show up on a Saturday is a clear indicator of how much power Holling's father has in the community, not just over his own family. In addition, his demand that the workmen prioritize the Hoodhood family emphasizes that he is selfish and self-important.
Mrs. Baker assigns Romeo and Juliet to Holling. Holling finds the entire play ridiculous and thinks that both Romeo and Juliet are stupid. Mrs. Baker finds it "tragic and beautiful and lovely," and suggests that Holling's reading is naïve and simplistic. Meryl Lee is reading the play on her own, and she agrees with Mrs. Baker's assessment when she and Holling talk about it. As Meryl Lee talks about how romantic the play is, Holling asks her to go out with him for Valentine's Day. Meryl Lee refuses and cites Holling's rudeness to her as a reason. Holling quotes a Shakespeare line, and Meryl Lee gives in.
It's worth noting that Mrs. Baker may have other reasons to like Romeo and Juliet so much, given that her husband's name is Tybalt and her brother-in-law's name is Mercutio—both names from the play. Regardless, Holling's reading is relatively simplistic, as Romeo and Juliet is also about familial loyalty and difficult choices.
That night at supper, Holling asks his family where he can take a girl with only $3.78 to his name. His dad asks Holling who he's taking, and when he ascertains that Meryl Lee is Meryl Lee Kowalski of Kowalski and Associates, he tells Holling to hurry—Kowalski and Associates will go under when Hoodhood and Associates inevitably gets the contract to remodel the junior high school. Heather says to take Meryl Lee to Woolworth's so she learns quickly that Holling is a cheapskate. Holling explains that his dad is more arrogant than normal because he's busy working on his scale model of the junior high school remodel, which is extremely modern and full of glass.
Holling’s dad’s arrogance and utter lack of empathy for other people—including his own son—reinforces his obsession with his work and himself. He openly mocks his children and frequently turns the conversation back to himself and his accomplishments, underscoring his failure as a father figure.
At school the next day, Holling learns that Danny is taking Mai Thi to Milleridge Inn and then to see Camelot for Valentine's Day. This is an expensive proposition; Holling guesses it'll cost Danny $17. On Wednesday, Holling and Mrs. Baker read the last two acts of Romeo and Juliet. She informs him that Romeo and Juliet is playing on Valentine's Day, and agrees that there's not much to be done when a person only has $3.78 to take someone out. She suggests that it doesn't matter how much Holling spends but how much he shares of himself, and she asks him to write an essay on Romeo and Juliet for next week.
Camelot was an extremely popular film that came out in 1967. Incidentally, it also deals with a love triangle and issues of loyalty, just like Romeo and Juliet—reinforcing the novel's assertion that literature and fictional stories are applicable in the real world.
On Valentine's Day, Mr. Guareschi announces that Mrs. Bigio baked Valentine's Day cupcakes, and class representatives can pick them up at 1 P.M. Mrs. Baker finally sends Holling to the kitchen at 1:18 P.M., where Mrs. Bigio gives Holling an envelope with tickets to Romeo and Juliet that she insists she can't use. That night, Holling and Meryl Lee enjoy the play and then walk to Woolworth's to drink Cokes.
When Holling receives the tickets, it makes Mrs. Baker's delay in sending him make more sense: she likely orchestrated this and doesn't want other students to know. This shows another instance in which Holling's extended community is more helpful and supportive than his own family, and it emphasizes the way that Mrs. Baker has stepped in as a parental figure for Holling.
As they sit and wait for Mr. Kowalski to pick Meryl Lee up, Meryl Lee imitates her dad's obsessiveness about making the model for the junior high school "classical." Holling explains that his dad is proposing a modern design, and he draws his dad's design on a paper placemat. He notices Meryl Lee's hair is auburn. Finally, Mr. Kowalski arrives to take them home, and Meryl Lee takes the drawing as a souvenir.
Meryl Lee's attitude when she imitates her father suggests that she might have more in common with Holling in terms of their family life than Holling thought, as it implies that her dad is similarly obsessed with nothing but the family business.
The next week, Holling's dad takes Holling to the meeting where the board will decide which architect will remodel the junior high school. Holling sits behind his dad and looks at the two models in the front of the room, both covered in white sheets. Finally, the board invites Mr. Kowalski to present. Mr. Kowalski looks at Holling before he starts, and says that he's made major changes to his initial design and will need more time to present. Holling's dad is angry, but agrees. When Mr. Kowalski uncovers his model, it's still classical—but it has domes and glass and looks very modern inside.
The addition of the domes and glass is taken directly from Holling's dad's design—Mr. Kowalski clearly copied, but it’s unclear if Meryl Lee had a part in this. This begins to show Holling that the adults in his life aren't infallible; they make bad decisions, are desperate, and are insecure just like he is. However, the novel leaves room for the reader to feel empathy for Mr. Kowalski, given Holling's dad's assertion that he'd go out of business without this contract: he needed to do whatever it took to earn the job.
When Mr. Kowalski is finished, Holling's dad turns to Holling, red in the face with anger, and asks what he did. Holling realizes, with a pit in his stomach, that Meryl Lee just baited him at Woolworth's. He begins to bawl and runs out of the conference room, and he never finds out what his dad did or said to Mr. Kowalski. The next day, Holling does his best to avoid Meryl Lee. On Friday, she wears sunglasses to school, and Holling is the only one who doesn't laugh when she tells Mrs. Baker her doctor said she needs to keep them on for the rest of the year.
By placing blame on Holling instead of on the person who actually did something wrong (Mr. Kowalski), Holling's dad demonstrates why his family is so fractured: he only cares about himself and his business.
Holling discovers what Shakespeare wanted to express about the human condition from Meryl Lee, and he proposes in his essay that you must be careful whom you trust. Mrs. Baker simply puts his essay in a folder. After school, Holling finds Meryl Lee waiting for him outside the school. She insists that what happened wasn't her fault, and she only showed her dad Holling's drawing because it was good—she never knew her father was going to steal it. Holling tells Meryl Lee to keep the sunglasses so she can keep lying successfully. She throws them at Holling's head, and he notices once they're off her face that she has been crying. She's not in school the next day.
When Holling learns that Meryl Lee has been crying, it shows him that she's telling the truth and encourages him to reevaluate his original assessment of what happened. This illustrates that Holling's study of Shakespeare is truly beginning to influence how he thinks about the world, as he's learning to think critically about events, given the evidence, and come to logical conclusions instead of simplistic emotional ones.
Holling rewrites his Romeo and Juliet essay, proposing that it's hard to care about two things at once. Mrs. Baker throws out his old essay and replaces it with the new one and asks Holling what he's going to do. That night, Holling buys two Cokes and a rose and goes to Meryl Lee's house. Mr. Kowalski lets Holling go up to Meryl Lee's room, where she accepts her Coke and the rose.
By recasting his understanding of Romeo and Juliet in this light, Holling gains a sense of empathy for Meryl Lee, who was truly caught up in something she had no control or real part in.
On Thursday, Kowalski and Associates withdraws its bid for the junior high school, and Hoodhood and Associates receives the contract. Holling's dad calls them "chumps," and Holling wonders if his dad is like Shylock and just became the person people expected him to be, or if he ever had a choice in who he became.
Holling and Meryl Lee partner up for school projects over the next week. They're at the board together when Mr. Guareschi arrives to give Mrs. Baker a telegram. Mrs. Baker reads the telegram, drops it, and runs out of the room. Meryl Lee and Holling pick up the telegram and read it as they put it on Mrs. Baker's desk. It says that Lieutenant Baker's helicopter went down, and he's missing in action.
By having the exchange of information happen at school, the novel allows Mrs. Baker's students a unique insight into her personal life, making it clear that she's much more than a teacher.