Marmee tells Jo that she is anxious about Beth, who seems depressed and preoccupied.
Jo says that Beth isn't a little girl anymore – she's eighteen and a woman, and probably has her own adult dreams and desires now.
Marmee tells Jo that she is very comforting and supportive as an adult daughter. Jo admits that she is best at hard work and coping with crises; she's not graceful or elegant like Amy.
Jo promises her mother that she will try to find out what Beth is worrying about. Marmee realizes that Jo has problems too, but Jo says those can wait.
Jo watches Beth for a while and thinks about her. One day, she sees how Beth reacts to Laurie shouting out a greeting as he goes by – Beth blushes and even starts tearing up! She decides that Beth must be secretly in love with Laurie.
Jo thinks about how she is the only sister who isn't getting romantic – Meg is married, Amy's nearly engaged, and Beth seems to be in love.
Everyone seems to think that Laurie is falling for Jo, but Jo hates it when people suggest this.
When Laurie went to college, he got interested in one girl after another, but these were always just little infatuations that died away really fast. Now he hints that he's in love with one particular girl, but he won't say who. He studies hard to try and make this mysterious lady proud of him.
Now Jo convinces herself that Laurie is especially kind to Beth and that the two of them might pair off.
Jo decides that she needs to get herself out of the way so that Laurie can fall in love with Beth without being distracted. She can't figure out where she could go.
Sitting on the old sofa, Jo begins to think about how to handle the situation. Usually, when she wants to be alone to think, she uses a prickly old cushion as a barricade. Tonight, she forgets to put it down, and Laurie drops onto the sofa beside her.
Jo tries to make Laurie go and talk to Beth, but Laurie wants her to pay attention to him after his week of studying.
Jo brings up Miss Randal, the latest college girl on whom Laurie's had a crush. He laughs and says she's engaged to someone else.
Jo says that at least that will stop Laurie from wasting money sending her flowers. Laurie says that the girl he wants to send flowers wouldn't like or accept them.
Jo tells Laurie to stop flirting. Laurie says it's harmless and he wishes Jo would flirt, too, but then he takes it back and says he likes it that she is straightforward.
In fact, Laurie says, he doesn't like really flirtatious girls; he thinks they are un-feminine. Jo is glad that he still likes modest girls and tells him to devote himself to one of them.
Laurie asks if she means it and she says that she does. However, she tells him to finish college before pursuing a romance.
Laurie plays with the tassel on Jo's apron. Jo orders him to leave her alone and go play some music to entertain her, and jokes that he never wanted to be tied to anyone's apron strings. He says that depends on who is wearing the apron. Jo chases him off with the prickly pillow and leaves the room until he goes home.
That night, Jo lies awake thinking for a long time. Just before she falls asleep, she hears Beth crying.
Jo goes to Beth's bedside and asks her what is wrong. Beth won't tell her and says there is no cure for her problem.
Jo stays with Beth until they both fall asleep.
In the morning, Jo tells Marmee that she wants to go away and live somewhere else for the winter. She feels cooped up at home, she says, and wants to experience the world and have adventures.
Marmee asks Jo where she will go. Jo says that she will go to New York and be a governess for the two children of their friend Mrs. Kirke, who runs a boarding house. She'll also do domestic tasks, like sewing.
Marmee is surprised that Jo wants to serve in a boarding house. Jo says that it's honest work and she'll have time to write.
Marmee suspects that there are other reasons Jo wants to leave. Jo says that Laurie is getting too fond of her.
Marmee asks Jo if she cares for Laurie in return. Jo says she doesn't, and that she also doesn't think they're suited for one another. Marmee agrees and is relieved.
Marmee also asks Jo about Beth. Jo says that she thinks she's figured out Beth's problem, but that Beth still doesn't want to talk about it.
The family discuss Jo's plan and agree on it. They write to Mrs. Kirke, who is only too happy to have Jo work for her.
When Jo breaks the news to Laurie, he takes it well and doesn't tease or joke. He says he's turned over a new leaf.
Jo asks Beth to look after Laurie while she's gone.
In his parting words to Jo, Laurie tells her that leaving won't do any good – he's fixated on her and plans to go and fetch her if necessary. Creepiness factor: moderate.