It is 1963 and Longleaf still has no air conditioning, so Skeeter sleeps on a cot on the back porch. She remembers sleeping out here when Constantine stayed with them, and again Skeeter misses her terribly. She has no writing to do because she is caught up on Minny’s stories and Yule May is not quite ready to talk to her. The heat and racial tension are making things uneasy for everyone. The Life magazine in front of her tells the story of a black teacher’s death. He was a Mississippi man who dared to speak out against their racist governor. She realizes how foolish she had been three months ago; she had not realized the risk the maids would be taking by talking to her.
The only cool place on the plantation is the car, so she gets in and starts the ignition. Suddenly the passenger door opens. Stuart slides in and gives her a quick kiss. He has to go to Biloxi for three days and invites her to come with him. He has lodgings on the beach where it is cool, and Skeeter is tempted to go despite the scandal of sharing a room with a man before marriage. Her friends would all tell her not to even consider it, but she does. He tempts her with kisses, but she cannot lie to her mother. Before he leaves, he invites Skeeter and her parents to his parents’ home for dinner in a few weeks. After he leaves, Skeeter is left to worry about sharing a meal with a state senator—and with her mother asking a multitude of questions, looking desperate on behalf of her daughter, and mentioning cotton trust funds.
When Stuart returns, he comes directly to Longleaf. Mrs. Phelan assures him they would be delighted to have dinner with his parents, and Stuart is polite to her in every way. Skeeter loves so many things about this man, including his callused palms and neat nails, being able to look him in the eyes when they talk, and having someone with whom to go to events. As important as anything to her is the protection he affords her in her own home; when he is here, her mother leaves off her nagging and criticizing. Finally Mrs. Phelan goes to bed and they sit on the sofa. Stuart only wants to kiss her, but Skeeter is troubled about his former relationship and needs to have some questions answered. She must find out what “constitutes breaking up forever,” what the rules of a permanent relationship are, and how many of them can be broken before it is too many. She knows none of these things.
Stuart asks for a drink before they talk. His mother will probably be making some comparisons between Skeeter and Patricia. His father knows part of what happened, but his mother knows the “real story,” as do Patricia’s parents. Although she asks, Stuart will not tell her what happened, not even when she says she simply does not want to repeat the same mistake. Stuart assures her she could never do what Patricia did.
Skeeter and her mother are going clothes shopping for their upcoming dinner with Stuart’s family. Pascagoula brings her breakfast, and for the first time Skeeter wonders what it is like to always have to remember other people’s food preferences. She sincerely thanks the maid for the first time. Pascagoula seems uncomfortable with the sentiment; soon, though, she stands quietly next to Skeeter and says she needs to tell her something. She gets no further because Mrs. Phelan marches in...
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and tells Skeeter she cannot wear dungarees to go shopping. When Skeeter’s mother breezes back out, Skeeter asks the maid what she wanted to tell her. Yule May is Pascagoula’s cousin, and she has decided to tell her stories for the book. Skeeter is so thrilled she asks Pascagoula if she, too, wants to tell her stories.
Both women understand how uncomfortable it would be for both of them, so Skeeter says she can talk about her other domestic jobs. Pascagoula explains that this is her first domestic job. Skeeter feels surprised her mother hired someone with no experience, but Pascagoula explains that no one else would work for her after what happened to Constantine. Skeeter gets no more information than that.
The shopping trip is not unbearable, and surprisingly Skeeter’s mother does not want to go all day; she comes home to take a nap. That evening, Skeeter calls Aibileen and tells her the news about Yule May. Aibileen is also thrilled. She is concerned, however, because she has heard that Yule May is no longer working for Hilly. Skeeter thinks about what she will ask her next interviewee and is a little frightened about what she might hear about Hilly. Despite their disagreements, Hilly is a long-time friend. However, the book is becoming more important than anything else.
The next day, Skeeter is anxiously waiting for the evening when she can begin her interview with Yule May. Pascagoula calls in late, and when she arrives she does not look happy. She hands Skeeter an envelope and walks away; it is a hand-written letter from Yule May. She will not be able to tell her story and explains that she never liked working for “that woman” (Miss Hilly) but needed to try to earn enough to send both her boys to college. No matter how hard they tried, they could only save enough for one son to go—so she stole a ruby ring Miss Hilly never wore. Now neither boy will be attending college because the fine is almost everything they have saved. Yule May is writing from prison. Skeeter cannot believe how quickly everything must have happened. She remembers the ring—one Hilly had appraised and never wore once she discovered it was a garnet, not a ruby. Skeeter will tell her father and see if he knows any lawyers who would represent Yule May.
When Skeeter goes to Aibileen’s house that night, she finds twenty people gathered there. She learns that Yule May was only short seventy-five dollars and asked Hilly for a loan to be paid back weekly, but Hilly said true Christians do not give charity to people who can work. The judge’s wife is a friend of Hilly’s and the entire trial took fifteen minutes. What should have been a six-month sentence is now four years. Skeeter is humiliated and offers to help; Aibileen says the churches are paying for the boys to go to school and to retain a lawyer. The Reverend leaves, followed by the women gathered in the room. As they stand, Skeeter glimpses their white uniforms under their coats. When the first one walks by, she quietly tells Skeeter she is going to help with her book. The next woman does the same, and soon eleven of them have committed to help her. Skeeter is incredulous and looks up to see Minny and Aibileen; Minny “has made this happen.”
At card club, Lou Anne is wearing long sleeves to hide her eczema, Hilly is exaggerating the worth of the stolen “ruby,” and Elizabeth is upset that Hilly is using Aibileen to watch her children. When Skeeter gets home, she prepares for an evening of interviews at Aibileen’s.
Aibileen has told each of the women that all names will be changed and there is no guarantee the book will ever be published, but Skeeter feels she must tell them this personally. She also gives each of them an envelope with forty dollars in it—money she has saved from her column and the allowance her mother gives her. The stories, good and bad, pour from the women so quickly that Skeeter has to keep asking them to slow down. They all know the potential consequences but prefer not to talk about them.
Skeeter is out interviewing every night and feels guilty for leaving her mother alone when she is not feeling well. Stuart wonders when he will get to read something she is writing but tells her he can wait until she is ready. The stories of “undisguised hate” and “inexplicable love” continue. Skeeter hears about Lou Anne’s compassionate actions toward her maid, which she never shared with her card group, of course. One of the maids, Gretchen, is mean to Skeeter and says all the women who talk to her actually hate her. Aibileen forces her to leave her house.
Callie’s story is simple, and she only wants white women to know that saying thank-you when they really mean it is “so good.” Skeeter has to compose herself; she regrets that she never properly thanked Constantine. It never occurred to her that she would not have the chance to do so. Each of the women—except for Gretchen—wants the money to help pay for Yule May’s sons’ education.