Back in 1994, Dedé keeps talking to the interview woman and thinks about Fela, who was the Mirabals’ old servant. Recently Fela had claimed to be possessed by the spirits of the dead sisters, and she set up a shrine to them in the shed behind Dedé’s house. People came from far away to consult the sisters.
We see just how mythologized the sisters have become since their deaths, as they are now almost godlike figures to be consulted from beyond the grave.
Dedé hadn’t known about this until her Bishop told her. She snuck into the shed, saw the evidence, and then demanded that Fela stop it. Fela then set up her shrine down the road. Minou now consults her to “talk” to her mother, Minerva. Recently Minou had mentioned Minerva’s old friend Virgilio Morales. Dedé knows where he lives, but she hasn’t been to see him. Dedé tries to shame Minou about talking to spirits, but Minou angrily says that she wants to be her own person, not “the daughter of a legend.”
Minou is Minerva’s daughter, and is also a real person who is currently a Dominican politician and professor. Minou has her mother’s desire for freedom, but in this case it is freedom from Minerva’s larger-than-life legacy.
The narrative returns to the interview, but Dedé is distracted by thoughts of Virgilio Morales, or “Lío.” Dedé mentions him to the interview woman, but she has never heard of him. He was a radical young man who was often thrown out of the country. The woman implies that he was Minerva’s “special friend,” but Dedé defensively says that he was her friend too. She recognizes that she is still “fighting with her dead sister over a beau.” Dedé remembers Lío, and how she imagined his eyes accusing her whenever she went along with the Trujillo regime’s insanity.
These small exchanges of the present send Dedé back into her memory and set off the narrative again. Her regrets about Virgilio are linked with her regrets about not helping her sisters, as both involve her fear and unwillingness to act, to cause trouble.
The story then jumps to 1948 in Dedé’s memory. Dedé and Minerva are at their father’s store, counting up an inventory. Dedé is always very precise in her counting, but today she is excited because they are about to go to their uncle’s house and her cousin Jaimito will be there. Dedé and Jaimito have been jokingly paired up since childhood, but now she finds herself actually attracted to him. She is also pleased that if she marries Jaimito, her life will continue on happily in the same way she is used to.
Dedé’s nickname is Miss Sonrisa, “Miss Smile,” as she is always putting on a happy face and accommodating everyone. She doesn’t feel an especially strong passion for Jaimito, but marrying him will cause no trouble and please everyone, including (she thinks) herself.
Suddenly two men appear – Mario, one of the distributors for the store, and with him is an intellectual-looking young man. He is introduced as Virgilio Morales, a student at the university. Minerva immediately engages him in conversation (they both know Elsa and Sinita, who are at the university now), but Dedé tries to put herself forward too. Mario tries to flirt with her, but she rebuffs him.
Minerva’s forwardness and Dedé’s submissiveness first show themselves in this romantic situation before they play out in the sisters’ politics. They are both struck by Virgilio, but Minerva naturally strikes up a conversation with him.
Minerva suggests that they all go play volleyball and then go swimming. First she has to convince Papá to grant his permission, but he relents. They all get into the car and Dedé notices how she naturally stands back while Minerva slips in to sit next to Lío.
Dedé recognizes her own accommodating nature now that she has something she really wants – but she still hangs back and lets Minerva step forward.
A few weeks later Dedé joins the group playing volleyball again, and this time she plays. This is unusual, as she considers “sports – like politics – something for men.” Dedé joins Jaimito’s team, while on the other side Lío and Minerva are talking intently. They then shift teams so that it is women against men. Night falls, and Dedé notices that Minerva has disappeared. She (possibly) purposefully knocks a ball into the nearby hedges, surprising Minerva and Lío who were hidden in the hedges.
As one of the most submissive and conventional of the sisters, Dedé also sticks to the patriarchal standards of her society and decides to not “dirty” herself with politics or sports. From Dedé’s perspective these scenes are all about romance, but at the same time Minerva and Virgilio are also discussing dangerous, subversive ideas.
There is then a brief quarrel between Jaimito and Lío, in which Lío criticizes Trujillo and Jaimito accuses Lío of abandoning his comrades whenever he flees the country. There is an uneasy silence when Lío mentions the regime, but finally the two men shake hands. Lío tells Jaimito that his cause “could use men like you.” In the present day, Dedé wonders why this brief fight seems so important in her memory.
This quarrel is important because it is a clash between the two most important men in Dedé’s life (other than Papá). Dedé’s choice of Jaimito over Virgilio is inextricably linked with her choice to remain uninvolved with her sisters’ resistance movement.
Dedé returns to her memories of Virgilio, and she remembers how Mamá always complimented him and talked about politics with him. Dedé was slightly resentful that Mamá never complimented Jaimito in this way. Dedé and Jaimito are a couple now, and they often sneak off to kiss. One day María Teresa is reading the newspaper to Mamá (who still pretends that her eyesight is bad, instead of admitting that she can’t read) and there is a list of Communist protesters at the university. Virgilio’s name is among them.
Dedé is still in the small world of her own romantic sphere, but with the newspaper the wider world of politics comes creeping in. Virgilio is not just a handsome intellectual whom Dedé is afraid to love – he is also a Communist and “enemy of state” to the Trujillo regime. The beginning of Mamá's slow shift in her positions and ideas is visible here.
Mamá gets angry at Minerva for this, and Minerva points out that Mamá had agreed with Virgilio’s ideas before she knew they were Communist. Dedé realizes that she has never thought of Lío as a subversive Communist, but only as a kind, high-minded young man. Dedé then realizes that Lío and Minerva are both “enemies of state,” and she suddenly understands what Minerva has been saying – that they are all living in a “police state.”
There is now a personal conflict between Trujillo’s propaganda and Dedé and Mamá’s personal experience. They know that Minerva and Virgilio are good people as well as “enemies of state,” but the propaganda portrays all Communists and protestors as evil and traitorous.
After that Dedé starts paying closer attention to the newspapers. She decides to provide Minerva with an alibi when she is meeting Lío. Minerva “chaperones” Dedé and Jaimito when they go out, and on the way they pick up Lío. After these outings Dedé excitedly wants to talk to Minerva about their suitors. Minerva claims that she isn’t in love with Lío, but that they are “comrades in a struggle” instead. Dedé is doubtful of this.
Virgilio is associated with resistance against Trujillo in Dedé’s mind, as she had never paid attention to politics before she became interested in Lío. Minerva’s feelings for Lío don’t seem to be as strong as Dedé’s, but Minerva is living in a different world from Dedé at this point, focusing on rebellion more than romance.
Soon Dedé feels her courage unraveling, and she asks Lío what his practical goals are. Lío lectures her on ideals, but offers few immediate, concrete solutions. Dedé asks him where he gets his courage, and Lío says that it isn’t courage, it’s only common sense.
Lío has a chance to really convince Dedé to join his struggle, but she isn’t swayed by his idealistic arguments. Her “common sense” is always to not make trouble.
Lío’s name starts to appear more in the papers, as the Communist Party is outlawed and slandered as “a party for homosexuals and criminals.” One day the police come to the Mirabal house asking for Lío, but Mamá (truthfully) says she hasn’t seen him in months. Dedé gets more frightened and feels her sense of order being upended. She even doubts whether she should marry Jaimito.
Virgilio has only been meeting Minerva in secret ever since Mamá learned that he was a Communist. Dedé’s sense of political order is connected to her romantic life – she worries that if she can love a rebel, then maybe she shouldn’t be marrying her cousin and continuing her domestic life.
Dedé decides to stop reading the newspaper, as the regime has been passing especially ludicrous regulations lately. Jaimito thinks the rules are reasonable and tries to explain them to Dedé. Dedé knows that they are wrong, but she purposefully closes her eyes and hopes for the best. Soon afterward Lío decides to go into exile. Jaimito says that he should try to compromise instead, but Dedé defends him. She admires Lío for his courage, but accepts that she is not “grand and brave” as she wishes she was.
We see another conflict between Virgilio and Jaimito, as Jaimito defends the regime’s absurd laws. Dedé has now educated herself about the political situation, but she makes the conscious decision to do nothing and ignore the news. This is the great difference between her and the other sisters. She wants to be like them, but she is simply too afraid.
Dedé remembers the night that Lío goes into hiding. They had all just come from a meeting of the Dominican Party – the only legal political party at the time, which they attended as a pacifying show of support for Trujillo. After the meeting Jaimito asks Minerva if Lío has asked her to go into hiding with him. Minerva says he hasn’t, and again she denies being in love with Lío.
Soon after seizing power, Trujillo made any opposing political party illegal. People could even be discriminated against for not actively joining Trujillo's Dominican Party. Jaimito seems to feel threatened by Virgilio – Jaimito is a “macho” in the outward, bossy sense, but he doesn’t risk his life like Virgilio does.
After Minerva leaves, Dedé and Jaimito sneak out to the car and Jaimito proposes to her. Just then they hear a cough, and discover that Lío is hiding in the back seat. Lío nervously apologizes, saying that he is in great danger, and he gives Dedé a note to deliver to Minerva. Jaimito gets angry, but Dedé convinces him to leave the car with her. She accepts his marriage proposal almost offhandedly, and then he drives away.
Jaimito’s proposal is significantly anticlimactic for Dedé. She is focused much more on Virgilio, but in the end she settles for Jaimito, not wanting to make trouble. This decision has far-reaching effects, as it sets the standard for her future attempts (or lack thereof) at courage and independence.
Dedé then goes inside and reads Lío’s letter, which is inviting Minerva to go into hiding with him. Dedé tells herself that she cannot expose her sister to such danger, especially if Minerva actually doesn’t love Lío, so she burns the letter.
This is just like Dedé knocking the volleyball to expose Virgilio and Minerva in the hedges. Dedé is clearly very jealous of her sister, but she never lets herself confront or express her feelings, and so they work themselves out in these passive-aggressive acts.