Meg goes looking for Jo, who is doing one of her favorite things – sitting in the attic garret, eating apples, and reading.
Meg shows Jo their invitation to a New Year's Eve dance at Mrs. Gardiner's tomorrow evening.
The girls talk about what they will wear. Because their family doesn't have much money, each of them only has one dress that's nice enough, and those aren't that nice – they're poplin, which is a kind of cotton, instead of silk.
Meg has kept her clothes nice, but Jo has a burned patch in the back of her gown and she ruined her only pair of gloves with lemonade. This doesn't bother her, but Meg insists that Jo has to have nice gloves so that she can dance. Finally the girls agree that they will each wear one of Meg's good gloves and carry one of Jo's stained ones, because they can't afford to get Jo a new pair.
Once all this is settled, Meg goes off to accept the invitation.
The next evening, there's a bustle as the two older girls get ready for the party and their younger sisters help them.
Meg wants some curls around her face, so they wrap her hair in papers and Jo uses a pair of hot tongs to pinch it. This is the nineteenth-century version of a curling iron. Unfortunately. Jo waits too long and burns the hair right off!
Meg is upset, but the little girls comfort her and Amy arranges a ribbon in her hair to hide the burned patches.
After a few last touches, both girls are dressed but uncomfortable. Meg's high heels pinch her feet and Jo's hairpins stick into her head.
Mrs. March sees the girls off at the door and tells them to have a good time.
The girls arrive at Mrs. Gardiner's house, primp just a little bit more in front of the mirror in her dressing room, and then they're ready. Meg, who is more proper than her sister, agrees to help Jo try to behave well by raising her eyebrows if her sister does anything wrong and nodding if she's doing OK.
The girls head downstairs to the small party. They're greeted by Mrs. Gardiner and her six daughters. Meg is good friends with Sallie Gardiner and starts having a good time.
Jo, who doesn't have many interests in common with most of the girls, hangs out against the wall, hiding the burned spot in her dress and feeling awkward. She wants to go talk about skating with some boys in the next room, but Meg won't let her.
Eventually Jo is left alone while Meg dances. Meg's feet ache from the tight shoes.
Jo ducks into a corner behind a curtain to hide and finds the Laurence boy there already. She's about to run away when he asks her to stay.
At first Jo and the boy make awkward conversation, but then they remember the time they talked over the fence once before and they become more natural.
The boy asks Jo to call him "Laurie," a nickname based on his last name. His first name is Theodore, but he doesn't like it.
Jo finds out that Laurie has traveled abroad and asks him a lot of questions about Switzerland and France. She asks him to speak French for her, and he uses it as an opportunity to complement Meg, which pleases Jo.
Jo studies Laurie so that she will be able to describe him to her sisters. His features are fine and his hands and feet are small, plus he's very polite, so he seems somewhat feminine.
Jo fishes to find out how old Laurie is. She discovers that he's her own age, almost sixteen. She also discovers that he doesn't want to go to college.
To change the subject, Jo suggests that Laurie go and dance. He asks her to be his partner, and she has to refuse because of the burned part in the back of her dress.
Laurie suggests that he and Jo dance in the hall where nobody will see them. They do, and she has a lot of fun, especially because he teaches her a new dance move.
Jo and Laurie sit on the stairs to catch their breath after the dance. Meg comes to find Jo, obviously upset about something.
Jo follows Meg into a side room, where Meg collapses on the sofa and confesses that she has sprained her ankle because of the ridiculous high heels she was wearing. The girls aren't sure what to do; they can't walk home now, as they were planning, but they're not sure they can afford to hire a carriage, or that one will be available.
Jo wants to ask Laurie's help, but Meg refuses, thinking it wouldn't be proper. While Meg waits on the sofa, Jo goes to get her a cup of coffee. Unfortunately, Jo blunders around, going into all the wrong rooms, spilling the coffee down the front of her dress, and staining the glove she borrowed from Meg.
Laurie tactfully intervenes and fetches coffee and ice (probably in the sense of a dessert, like "ice cream") for both girls.
While they are chatting, Hannah arrives to pick up Meg and Jo. When she discovers that Meg's ankle is sprained, she scolds the girl, and Meg starts to cry.
Jo goes off on her own to try and hire a carriage, but can't seem to find the help she needs. Once again Laurie intervenes and offers to take them home in his carriage – it will be easy, since he lives next door to them!
They set off in the carriage. Laurie rides on top with the coachman so that the girls and Hannah can have the inside to themselves. They talk about the dance; both girls say they had a good time until Meg's accident.
After the girls arrive home and say goodbye to Laurie, their little sisters want to hear all about the dance. Jo has brought some candies and desserts home for them, which Meg thinks is rude.
The night ends with Jo reflecting that they have just as much fun as "fine ladies" even though they don't have a lot of money.