The heat in Tiburon becomes scorching, near 100 degrees. August, Lily, and Zach provide the bees with sugar water because it is too hot for them to get food otherwise. While putting a lid back on a hive box, Lily gets stung on her wrist. She assures August that she was sending the bees love, but August replies that the heat makes bees act a bit crazy. August adds that the sting is part of her initiation as a true beekeeper. Lily asks if she has a possible future in beekeeping, and August replies that a person’s skill in an activity is not as important as one’s love for it.
At lunchtime, Rosaleen and May run fully clothed through the water sprinkler, and August and Lily soon join in the fun, dancing around in the water. Eventually, June comes out to the porch, and Lily sprays her with the hose. At first, June reacts angrily, but then she and Lily start laughing wildly together. June hugs Lily, and they finally make their peace.
One extremely hot day, all of the women take a break and go to bed. Lily lies in the honey house and thinks about telling Rosaleen about her call to T. Ray. Despite her attempts not to think of her mother, Lily does so. Lily puts on her mother’s gloves, and she realizes how tight they feel. She realizes that soon she will outgrow them.
Lily escapes her thoughts by going into the pink house for a drink. She finds May making trails of graham crackers and marshmallows to lead bugs out of the house. Lily recalls that T. Ray had mentioned that Lily’s mother used to do the same thing. Lily asks May if she remembers a Deborah Fontanel, and May says yes, Deborah stayed out in the honey house for a while. Lily feels light-headed and goes out to the honey house. Lily becomes obsessed with the idea that her mother walked in the very same room in which she stood. Lily eventually falls asleep.
For the next few days, Lily is frazzled and jumpy. The Boatwright women ask what is wrong, but she lies and says that nothing is bothering her. Lily considers discussing her mother with August, but she will not bring herself to have the conversation. That Friday, however, Lily finally prepares to speak to August, putting her mother’s black Mary picture in her pocket. Lily is intercepted, however, by Zach, who asks her to join him to run an errand in town.
In town, Zach and Lily see white men preparing to protest against Jack Palance’s appearance with a black woman. Zach meets up with a few of his friends. One of them, Jackson, taunts the white men, and one of the white men approaches Jackson with a shovel in a threatening manner. Jackson responds by throwing a cola bottle at the man, which cuts open the white man’s nose. The man does not realize which of the boys threw the bottle, and none of them admits to the act. Lily hopes that Zach will point out Jackson, but Zach stands alongside his friends. All four boys are eventually handcuffed and taken away by police. Lily sits frozen in Zach’s truck for a while until she decides to walk back to the Boatwright house.
When Lily returns home, August, June, and Rosaleen already know what happened, and Clayton Forrest is at the house. Clayton announces that Judge Monroe is out of town, so there is no chance for Zach to get out of jail for five days. Clayton has seen Zach in jail, and he seems ok. Lily sees the fire in August’s eyes about the incident. Clayton reassures them all that he will do his best to get Zach out. Everyone agrees not to tell May about the situation, determining that it would be too much for her. Lily recalls that she saw May that afternoon building onto her wall.
August and Lily go to visit Zach in the local jail. Lily sees him and wants to touch him, but she does not. Lily had prepared some words to say to Zach, but she forgets all of them. She cannot say anything at all. Zach asks Lily if she has been writing in her notebook, and Lily assures him that she will write all of this down for him. August speaks with Zach about the bee business.
The Boatwrights avoid discussing Zach, and one evening they decide to watch Ed Sullivan on television to stop moping. The phone rings, and May answers and talks to Zach’s mother. She announces to the group that she now knows that Zach has been in jail, and she is upset that no one had told her. May’s eyes gloss over, and she begins to ignore everyone else. May assures everyone that she will be fine, but she goes out to the wall. August offers to accompany her, but May insists that she must go alone.
After twenty minutes, May has not returned, so everyone goes out to find her. They search the wall and call her name in vain. August instructs June to call the police, pray to Mary, and then return. August and Lily begin to walk the river. Lily recites Hail Marys in her head and unintentionally aloud as they look for May. They find May’s flashlight on the ground, and soon they find May’s body in the river with a stone on top of her. August does her best to revive her sister, but she soon announces that May is dead.
To Lily’s surprise, June and August do react not in horror but with “heartbroken acceptance.” Rosaleen does not cry, but her chin shakes. Lily hears a pocket of air get released from May’s mouth, and she is overcome with nausea. She vomits. She feels as though her dream world is slipping away.
The policemen ask August and June a series of questions about May, but they ask Lily about her own background. Lily sticks to her false story about being an orphan. The policeman seems concerned about Lily staying in the Boatwright house. The policeman advises Lily to move in with her aunt as soon as possible, because she is lowering herself by living with a black family. For her part, Rosaleen makes up the relationship she has with August, saying that she is her husband’s first cousin.
Lily reenters the house and begins to cry. Rosaleen asks Lily to share May’s room with her. Lily sleeps in Rosaleen’s old bed, and Rosaleen now sleeps in May’s bed. Lily dreams about Zach. She wakes with a start, and then the events of the night come flooding back to her. Upon washing her face in the bathroom, Lily notices the socks that May had put on the bathtub’s feet. She decides she never wants to forget this side of May. Lily also determines that May’s blend of love and pain has ultimately consumed her life.
After an autopsy, the police officially rule May’s death a suicide. August explains to Lily that they will sit with May’s body until she is buried, and May’s coffin is brought into the living room. They hold a vigil to say goodbyes to May and to allow May to understand that those she leaves behind accept that she is moving on. June plays the cello, and Lily looks at May’s body. Lily realizes that only six days have passed since she learned that her mother once stayed with the Boatwrights, though it feels like six months. Lily feels an impulse to come clean with August at that moment, but she determines that it is not fair to add this material to August’s burden at this time. Lily says goodbye to May internally, but before she leaves the coffin, she rearranges May to look as if she is pondering the future.
Later that morning, Zach finally returns to the Boatwright house. He hugs Lily, but Lily feels that something has disappeared from his face. A witness at the scene of the bottle-throwing incident was able to clear Zach of all charges. Clayton sends his condolences, and Lily watches the interaction between August and Rosaleen. Lily realizes that August loves Rosaleen. Zach considers May’s death to be entirely his fault, but August reassures him that it was May who caused her own death and no one else.
Zach and August begin to drape the hives as a sign of mourning May’s death. August explains that this is a beekeeping tradition. August tells Lily the story of Aristaeus, which is considered to be the second part of the beekeeping initiation. Aristaeus was the first beekeeper, and all of his bees died, but they were reborn out of a sacrificed bull. After this miracle, people believed that bees had power over death. The presence of bees symbolizes the rebirth of a dead person in the next world. August confesses that draping the hives is not for May but for the mourners. She says that the drapes remind them that life gives way to death and death gives way to life.
The Daughters of Mary visit with an abundance of food. They comment about how good May looks, and they make jokes about the white “drive through” funeral homes that have started springing up. Lily was thrilled that they made the joke freely and did not consider apologizing because of her presence. Lily truly feels that she has become one of them. Lily decides that if she should die, she would want to be put in a display window so that the Daughters could drive by and laugh.
August finds May’s suicide note. May apologizes for leaving them in such a manner, and she says that she is just too tired of carrying around the weight of the world. She adds that it is her time to die, but it is June’s and August’s time to live. She encourages them not to mess up their chance. August interprets the note as an encouragement to June to marry Neil. June seems to take this advice to heart, and she thinks deeply.
Zach, Lily, and August undrape the hives, and they begin to feel more comfortable with the idea of saying goodbye to May. Neil is often at the Boatwright house, but he seems confused by the way June stares at him. The rest of the house also watches the interaction between Neil and June. May’s funeral is surrounded by the hum of bees, a sound Lily determines to be the sound of souls flying away.
August’s explanation that “hot weather makes the bees out of sorts” foreshadows the crazy water fight that ensues shortly afterward. Since bees parallel the human world in this novel, it is to be expected that people will act out of sorts in the heat as well. The women uncharacteristically have a water fight, acting like children, running, and yelling. For most of them, this type of activity might have seemed within the realm of possibility, and it is good to see May in a burst of frivolity. June’s character prior to this point would never have allowed for this type of silly behavior. Yet, this scene brings her to understand something about Lily, and June seems to finally accept Lily in the household.
The other conflicts in Lily’s life continue on their path toward resolution. She solidifies her understanding of her mother’s presence at the Boatwrights’, even though the revelation of facts she might have guessed drives her close to insanity. Despite her constant attempts to not think about her mother, all Lily can think about is where her mother sat, stood, and worked around the pink house. At this point, Lily is pulled apart by a new conflict. On the one hand, Lily is quite happy and content in her new life at the Boatwright house, and her relationship with Zach is good overall. On the other hand, Lily feels anguished by the uncertainty of what happened with her mother and realizes that living there will constantly bring reminders of her mother.
After Zach is jailed, we see August as a woman who is not just pleasant and hospitable but also ready to fight when necessary, having a fire in her belly. Prior to this incident, she seemingly was content with the world, laid back, and willing to let the world take her where it needed. Now, August is angered by the injustice of what happened to Zach, and she displays the will to fight. Rosaleen has a fire in her too, but a different kind. Kidd uses simile to compare August’s fire to a hearth and Rosaleen’s fire to the type that burns down a house.
Lily recalls that she saw May building “an addition” to her wall. This statement foreshadows May’s eventual death. The wall symbolizes May’s pain, and therefore an addition to it would symbolize more pain. May begins to carry an unbearable weight of the pain of the world, which ultimately leads to her suicide. Even before receiving the news about Zach, May probably felt the sorrow shared by the others, and she likely considered suicide even before talking with Zach’s mother on the phone. The last straw for May, though, was realizing that she was not accepted as an equal in the household; everyone was hiding the news from her, marginalizing her and acknowledging that something serious was wrong with her. This act of protection, however, was probably more of an insult to May’s autonomy. Indeed, the others saw the suicide coming, more or less.
At May’s wake, Sugar-Girl makes a joke about “white people’s funeral homes” without any consideration for the fact that Lily is white. It is at this turning point that Lily feels she has become one of the Daughters regardless of race, just as the one man in group was not excluded because of his gender. Lily begins to wish that skin color was not a factor at all in human existence—after all, the bees in a hive do not have to worry about looking different from one another—and she begins to take a clearer view of the evil nature of the ways people often handle racial differences.