Beth, Jo, and Amy are helping Meg pack her trunk. She's going to spend two weeks staying with the wealthy Moffat family to celebrate Belle Moffat's coming-out party. (Historical Context Lesson: nineteenth-century girls of the higher classes had "coming out" parties around age sixteen. The family would throw a lavish dance and the girl would officially enter adult society. The March girls, however, are too poor to have this kind of party.)
Meg is collecting together all of her nicest clothes and accessories. Each of her sisters has loaned her best things also, and Marmee has given Meg some family treasures. Even so, Meg's things aren't nearly as nice as the gowns and accessories of the rich girls she's going to be hanging out with.
The next morning, Meg leaves for the Moffats' house. Mrs. March is worried about the excursion, but she lets Meg and her friend Sallie persuade her that it will be OK.
At first, Meg is intimidated by Moffats, who are wealthy and fashionable. But they are also nice to her, and she adapts quickly to a life of leisure.
Now living the life of an upper-class gentlewoman, Meg basically spends her time having fun...in a very, very proper way. As one of several guests – the Moffat girls are basically hosting a two-week, formal-feeling sleepover – she spends her time walking, riding, shopping, calling on people, and going to the theater and the opera.
The evening of the first party arrives. Meg discovers that her second-best dress isn't good enough and has to wear her best one, which seems especially shabby next to the other girls' finery.
A bouquet of wonderful flowers and ferns arrives. Everyone assumes it is for Belle, but it turns out that Laurie has sent flowers to Meg. They're not for putting in a vase – they're for wearing, as corsages and other accessories.
Meg wears a few of the flowers herself and makes the others into bouquets and decorations for the other girls. They're very pleased with her kind desire to share.
That evening, Meg really enjoys the party. Everyone seems to like her; she's asked to sing, and Mr. Moffat compliments her on her dancing.
At the end of the evening, Meg overhears some of the older women talking about her and about the flowers she received from Laurie. The women suggest that Mrs. March must be scheming to marry Meg to Laurie so that the March family can have money again.
Meg continues behaving gracefully at the party, but she feels terrible after what she overheard. That evening in bed, she cries a little bit and wonders if the women are right about her mother's plans.
In the morning, the girls dawdle and have trouble getting going after the party of the night before. In the afternoon, as they are sewing (even upper-class women did decorative sewing), Belle Moffat tells Meg that she has invited Laurie to the second party.
Meg discovers that the girls think she and Laurie are romantically involved. She tries to tell them that she thinks of Laurie, who is a year younger than her, as a little boy, but they don't believe her.
Belle offers to lend Meg a nicer dress for the second, fancier dance. Meg tries to refuse politely, but Belle insists.
On the evening of the party a few days later, Belle and her maid dress Meg up like a fashionable lady, do her hair, and cover her in makeup and jewelry. Meg hardly recognizes herself, but she's excited to look so fashionable.
When they go down to the party, Meg discovers that people who ignored her at the previous party are falling all over themselves to be nice to her now, just because she's dressed up.
Meg is flirting and trying to manage her dangly earrings, trailing skirt, and fancy fan. Suddenly she sees Laurie, who looks upset and disapproving.
Meg blushes and her girlfriends nudge each other, thinking that she's in love with Laurie.
Meg goes over to greet Laurie, but he is stiff and uncomfortable with her. He tells her that he doesn't like the way she looks, because he dislikes "fuss and feathers."
Meg, insulted, walks away. She overhears someone say that her friends have made her look foolish by dressing her up like a doll.
Meg feels terrible. Laurie comes over, apologizes to her and asks her to dance.
Meg and Laurie dance for a little bit, and then they have to take a break – Meg's corset makes it difficult for her to breathe. Meg asks Laurie not to tell her family about her behavior this evening – she says she'll tell them herself.
Ned Moffat comes to claim some of the dances that Meg has promised him. She says goodbye to Laurie for the meantime.
At dinner, Laurie notices that Meg is drinking champagne. He cautions her not to drink too much, since it will give her a hangover the next day. (Meg's family doesn't drink at all, so she isn't very experienced with it.)
Meg just laughs at Laurie and continues drinking, flirting, and generally letting herself go. Laurie wonders if he should intervene, but decides not to.
The party ends. Meg goes to bed, already suffering from a headache, and feels sick all the next day. The day after that, she goes home, and is glad to be there.
Meg tells her family that she's happiest in the family home, even though it's not as splendid as the Moffat's mansion.
To her sisters, Meg tells the fun and exciting aspects of her visit. After the little girls go to bed, she asks her mother if she can confess.
Jo, who is still in the room, asks if she should leave them alone, but Meg tells her to stay.
To her mother and Jo, Meg confesses her flirtatious behavior, her drinking, and her other "dissipations." She says that Laurie disapproved of her.
Mrs. March comforts Meg and says that she can tell there's something else going on. Meg says yes and tells her about the conversation she overheard in which some of the women suggested that her mother was plotting to marry her to Laurie.
Jo wants to confront the Moffat girls about their gossip, but Meg and Marmee tell her not to repeat it.
Meg asks Marmee if she has "plans" for her daughters. Mrs. March says that she does, but they're not the scheming, money-grubbing plans that the other women assumed. She wants her daughters to be good and happy and have their self-respect, whether or not they get married and whether or not they are rich.