One day, Carol goes walking with her son Hugh along the Gopher Prairie railroad tracks and runs into Erik Valbourg. Erik takes immediate notice of Hugh and straightens his outfit.
Erik and Carol chat for a while about books, and Carol calls him out for not really knowing what he's talking about. Erik apologizes and asks if Carol can recommend things for him to read. He knows he's a poser, but he has big dreams.
At this point, Erik decides to throw away decorum and ask Carol if she's happy in her marriage. Carol thinks this is a bit forward, but part of her is happy that Erik has asked.
When Carol and Erik get back into town, Carol sees some old women staring at her through a window. From that point on, she feels like she needs to explain to everyone why she was walking with someone like Erik. The more she thinks about him, the more she wants to support his dreams and help him escape from Gopher Prairie.
Erik won't be daunted by his social status, though. For starters, he organizes a tennis tournament for the town. Unfortunately, some higher-ups decide to change the location of the tennis tournament at the last second without informing Erik. They're making it pretty clear that he doesn't belong among them.
When Carol scolds the folks for changing the tennis plans, Juanita Haydock, a neighbor, notices that Carol is defending Erik a little too much and implies that Carol likes Erik. This comment immediately makes Carol back down.
Carol starts making up reasons to visit the tailor shop, ordering suits that her husband Will doesn't want or need.
Over time, Carol finds herself singing more often and feeling cheerful. She suddenly realizes that she might have a crush on Erik. She becomes more critical of the clothes she wears and tries to look good around Erik whenever she can.