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Chapters 10 - 12
One day Hezekiah, as well as a good number of townspeople, go off to a ball game, and Janie is left to run the store by herself. Late in the afternoon, a stranger wanders in. The man knows her name, but she only vaguely recognizes him. He buys cigarettes, jokes with her, and says he went the wrong way for the ball game. He asks Janie to play a game of checkers. She has never played, for Joe would not allow it. She is happy to go get the board and have this funny stranger, who has nice eyes and shoulders, teach her the game. They play checkers and laugh.
He buys her a coke before he starts on his seven-mile walk home. Janie comments that seven miles is a long way, but he points out that it is not, if you are used to walking. Janie learns that his name is Vergible Woods, but people call him Tea Cake.
Tea Cake does not leave the store, and Janie continues to flirt with him. When others begin to show up, he joins them on the porch and stays until closing time. He offers to help Janie shut the store and walk her home. Janie accepts and soon realizes that she likes this man, for she is comfortable with him. At her front door, he tips his hat, says goodnight, and leaves. She sits on her porch watching the moon rise.
At the store, Janie wants to ask Hezekiah about Tea Cake, but feels silly about it. Tea Cake is too young for her; she also thinks he may be a womanizer or out for her money. She decides to treat him coldly if he comes around again. A week later, Tea Cake shows up and pretends to play a guitar for her; he then offers to buy her a coke and a battleship, if she wants one. As he jokes, Janie cannot be cold. She gladly accepts his invitation to play checkers with him for the evening. The porch-sitters join in the fun. Janie lets Hezekiah close up the store, and she and Tea Cake go to her house, sit on the porch until eleven, and have cake and lemonade. Tea Cake suddenly suggests they go fishing. Janie is game. They dig the worms in the dark and then catch a few fish. Janie is home by day break.
The next day Hezekiah warns Janie against Tea Cake. Janie wonders if he is a thief, violent, or perhaps married. Hezekiah responds negatively to her inquiries and says that Tea Cake just has not got anything; he is not of Janie's caliber. Janie does not listen to Hezekiah. She allows Tea Cake to bring her fish to fry and to brush her hair until she is drowsy. He tells her it is a shame that she does not enjoy her own physical self; for she is an attractive woman and other people enjoy the sight of her. Janie assumes he says this to lots of women. When Janie sits up and yawns, Tea Cake thinks she wants him to go, but he wants to stay. She says she is too old for him, for there is a twelve-year difference. He thinks this is just her convenient way of dismissing him. He politely leaves.
The next day Janie fights an interior battle with herself about Tea Cake. She thinks he may be a bee for her blossom, or he could be her ridicule, running around with all sorts of women. A day later, he shows up early in the morning to tell her his daytime thoughts and bring her strawberries. He does not stay for breakfast, but goes off to work. In the evening, he appears in the hammock on her porch. They fix dinner, and the next morning Janie awakes to his kisses. He leaves for work, and she stays in bed thinking about him, breathing in the atmosphere of his presence. Later in the afternoon, she again has doubts about Tea Cake. Then he arrives with a car to take her shopping for fancy food for tomorrow's school picnic. She is still not sure and asks him to make no false pretenses with her. He assures her: "You got de keys to de kingdom."
After the picnic, people are appalled. They cannot believe that Mrs. Mayor Starks was with Tea Cake, especially with Joe only gone for nine months. As they continue to be seen together, the townsfolk gossip about Janie being dressed and acting like a girl. They discuss Tea Cake being in her yard, working the flower beds and chopping trees. They cannot believe that he is teaching her to drive or to play games on the store porch. Sam and Pheoby Watson discuss the relationship. Sam says everybody, including the preacher, thinks Tea Cake is taking advantage of Janie. Pheoby says that Janie is a grown woman and knows what she wants. They both agree that it would be terrible if Janie turned out like Mrs. Tyler, so Pheoby goes to talk to Janie.