It couldn’t be Margie, because she would cry, and besides, she might bring the children, which would turn the whole thing into a circus. Jimmy hadn’t come out and said it, because he was trying to spare her feelings, but he was playing golf with his father today–the club had called to confirm their tee time.
That left Alice. As usual.
“Mother, do you want the blue with the feather or the tan?” Alice called from upstairs. She had skipped her painting class this morning to help Francie finish packing and to say goodbye to Vi. Vi’s two boys worked for their father’s publicity firm, and all three of them were currently in the middle of the Mojave Desert getting ready to launch a client’s nuclear tourism business. It was just like Harry to leave his wife to make her shameful departure from an empty house, even when he was the one who’d smashed their sacred vows into smithereens.
“Oh, the blue, I suppose,” Francie called. “Though it hardly matters, does it?”
“Don’t be glum.” Alice came down the stairs carrying the hat under one arm, leaving the other free to hold on to the handrail. “It’s going to be lovely, Mother. You just need to think of it as a vacation. You and Vi have talked about going to Reno together for ages.”
“Yes, but not like this. There won’t be any snow and we’ll be coming back divorced.”
Francie put on the blue hat, checking her reflection in the hall mirror. How had she let this happen? It had been a decade at least since Vi first broached the idea of visiting her hometown–she wanted to show Francie the house she grew up in, to visit her parents’ graves, to see the mountains covered in all that lovely snow. There’d be ice skating, Vi had promised, and walks along the river, and drinks at the Sky Room on top of the Mapes Hotel.
But it had never seemed like the right time. There’d been graduations and weddings and engagements and grandchildren, and it had seemed as though they had all the time in the world.
Before Alice could respond, the front door opened and Vi walked in. She hadn’t bothered to knock since she and Harry had moved across the street from the Meekers three decades earlier, when she was pregnant with Frank, and Francie’s firstborn, Margie, was only a baby.
“Good morning, Francie. Hello, Alice, darling.”
“Well, you don’t have to sound like you dropped your ice-cream cone,” Francie scolded. “Alice was just telling me to keep my chin up, and you’ll simply have to do the same.”
The driver followed behind Vi timidly. Harry always hired men who were afraid of him. “Should I get the bags, ma’am?”
“Yes, please.” Francie grabbed Alice’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “I suppose this is goodbye, then. Are you sure you’ll be all right?”
“Of course I will.”
Dear Alice–she was as brave as she was thoughtful. “Just call Dad for anything you need. Don’t try to do everything yourself.” For the ten-thousandth time, Francie sent up her prayer–Dear Lord, take care of Alice–a habit like breathing.
“I’ll miss you too, Auntie Vi,” Alice said, kissing her on the cheek.
Francie was gathering her purse and gloves when she saw Vi do something she’d never done before–she placed her hands on either side of Alice’s face and pressed her forehead to hers. Didn’t say anything, just stood like that for a moment.
Vi had never been the demonstrative sort. Was this what she was in for, Francie wondered, six weeks of maudlin fussing? All because of Harry–who, in Francie’s opinion, wasn’t worth wasting a single tear on.
“Let’s go,” she said, too sharply. “I want to get on the train before they start letting the coach passengers on.”
The train would be departing at nine, but at eight-thirty the sleeping-car passengers had been allowed to board. Francie had been determined to settle into their compartment before the hall became congested with other passengers.
The porter looked at their tickets, then at his clipboard. “Madam? You wanted pillow service?”
“Yes, please,” Francie said tiredly. “I know we’re only going as far as Reno, but if you would be so kind . . .”
“Of course.” He was back in minutes to turn down the beds. “Have a nice trip.”
“Do you remember,” Vi said dreamily, once he was gone. “The year Frank broke his arm, and we had to drive all the way back from Yosemite in the dark?”
“Oh, I do. Jimmy was so upset that he missed feeding the bears.”
“What I remember most is that you didn’t think twice, you just started packing up the station wagon. You could have stayed and enjoyed the rest of the trip, but you and Arthur and the kids all came back so my boys wouldn’t feel like they missed out.”
“Of course we did!” Francie said. “You would have done the same for me.”
“I would have. But Harry wouldn’t. It’s funny–when I think back over the years, you were there for me all the times that he wasn’t. Sometimes I wish I could have married you instead of him.”
For a moment both of them were quiet. “I believe I’ll lie down,” Francie finally said. “I didn’t sleep well last night. What about you, dear?”
“I think I’ll read the paper.”
“If you’re sure.”
Francie kicked off her shoes and climbed into the lower berth. She knew Vi wouldn’t mind; Francie wasn’t built for going up and down ladders, but Vi was still as thin as a whip and agile as a cat after all these years.
From the book LIES IN WHITE DRESSES by Sofia Grant. Copyright © 2019 by Sophie Littlefield. From William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.
In the 1940s and 50s, women who needed a fast divorce went to Nevada to live on a ranch with other women in the same boat. This historical novel was inspired by the true stories of those who ‘took the Reno cure.’
Award-winning author Sofia Grant weaves an entrancing tale of female friendship and new beginnings inspired by the true stories of those who “took the Reno cure”. In the 1940s and 50s, women who needed a fast divorce went to Nevada to live on a ranch with other women in the same boat.
Francie Meeker and Vi Carothers were sold a bill of goods: find a man, marry him in a white wedding gown, and live happily ever after. These best friends never expected to be on the train to Reno, those “lies in white dresses” shattered, their marriages over.
On board the train they meet June Samples, who is fleeing an abusive husband with her daughter, and take the vulnerable young mother under their wing. The three decide to wait out the required six weeks together, and then they can toss their wedding bands into the Truckee River and start new lives as divorcees.
But as they settle in at the ranch, one shocking moment will change their lives forever. As it brings their deceptions and fears into focus, it will also demand a reckoning with the past, and the choices that a person in love can be driven to make.
Women’s Fiction [William Morrow Paperbacks, On Sale: September 17, 2019, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780062861863 / eISBN: 9780062861870]
About Sofia Grant
Called a “writing machine” by the New York Times and a “master storyteller” by the Midwest Book Review, Sofia Grant has written dozens of novels for adults and teens under the name Sophie Littlefield. She has won Anthony and RT Book Awards and been shortlisted for Edgar®, Barry, Crimespree, Macavity, and Goodreads Choice Awards. Sofia works from an urban aerie in Oakland, California.