Tea Cake doesn’t come back for a week, and Janie, thinking that he is taking advantage of her wealth, decides to be rude to him when he shows up. But when he finally comes by, his fanciful joking—he pretends to play an imaginary guitar—immediately makes Janie smile. They flirt and play checkers again, and then Tea Cake walks Janie home. They sit on her porch and talk for hours, eating cake and drinking fresh lemonade. As late as it is, Tea Cake proposes that they go fishing. They stay out the rest of the night at the lake, and in the morning, Janie has to sneak Tea Cake out of town to avoid gossip. She loves the impetuous adventure of the whole evening.
The next day, Hezekiah tells Janie that Tea Cake is too low for a woman like her; Janie, however, doesn’t care. Tea Cake returns that night and they eat a dinner of fresh fish. Afterward, Janie falls asleep in Tea Cake’s lap and wakes up to find him brushing her hair. They talk for a while, and Tea Cake says that he fears that Janie thinks that he is a scoundrel. Janie tells him that she likes him, but as a good friend, not as a lover. Crushed, Tea Cake says that he feels more strongly about her than she apparently does about him. Janie doesn’t believe him, thinking that he can’t possibly be attracted to someone so much older than him. She tells him that he will feel different in the morning. Tea Cake leaves abruptly.
The next day, Janie anxiously frets about Tea Cake, who doesn’t return. The day after that, however, he wakes her up by knocking on her door. He says that he has to leave for work but that he wanted to let her know that his feelings for her are real. That night, Janie finds Tea Cake waiting for her in her hammock. They eat dinner and he spends the night. The next morning, he leaves. Janie is again filled with desperate fears that Tea Cake has simply taken advantage of her. But he returns after three days, driving a beat-up car, and says that he wants to make their relationship public; he bought the car because he wants to take her to the big town picnic.
After the picnic, Tea Cake and Janie become the topic of scandalous gossip. The town doesn’t approve of the revered mayor’s widow dating a poor, younger man. Sam Watson convinces Pheoby to talk to Janie so that she doesn’t end up like Ms. Tyler, an old widow who was cheated by a younger man. Pheoby tells Janie that Tea Cake is too low for her, but Janie replies that while Jody wanted her to act pretentious and high-class, Tea Cake treats her as she wants to be treated. Pheoby warns that Tea Cake may be using her for her money and tells Janie that she has stopped mourning for Jody too soon.
Janie dismisses these admonitions, saying she shouldn’t mourn if she is not sad. Janie then reveals that she plans to sell the store, leave town, and marry Tea Cake. She explains that she doesn’t want the town to compare Tea Cake to Jody. She also says that she has lived her grandmother’s way and now wants to live her own way. She adds that augmented status seemed like the ultimate achievement to a former slave like Nanny but that she, Janie, is searching for something deeper. Pheoby cautions her once more to be careful with Tea Cake, but then the two women laugh and share in Janie’s newfound happiness.
It is significant that all of these revelations come in the course of conversation; Hurston maintains her emphasis on speech interaction. Janie’s quest for self-discovery is literally a quest to find her own voice. Thus, it is important to note her description of Tea Cake’s meaning to her: “He done taught me the maiden language all over.” Janie’s love for Tea Cake is framed in terms of