Clara, 14, and Geneva, 16, are close friends until Geneva secretly marries Clara’s widowed father. Feeling betrayed by her pa and a girl she idolizes, Clara wants nothing to do with her new young stepmother. Geneva retaliates, beginning a clash of wills that lasts from 1884 to the flu epidemic of 1918.
Years go by without them speaking to one another. Geneva, bolder of the two, lives a life of ease in elegant homes with piped water and domestic help. She shops for the latest in women’s fashions and plays pinochle with lady friends.
For spite, Clara marries a handsome cowboy Geneva fancies, but ends up living in a freezing cold cabin and a house infested with bugs. She takes in ironing and feeds miners to make ends meet, discovering love and purpose in the process. It takes a tragedy to bring her and her family together again.
Can she and Geneva see this as an opportunity to put aside the past? Can they salvage a relationship that was once the center of their world?
Clara’s heart gave a lurch. Mouth agape, she called out to them, but neither one stopped or answered. She stood for a moment, barely breathing until the bedroom door closed behind them.
Eyes wild, she rushed down the hallway to the bedroom her aunts shared before Alma left to get married. Lou was there, readying herself for bed. “Geneva is sleeping in here tonight, is she not?” Clara poked her head out the bedroom door for another look. She was hoping to see Geneva walking down the hall, her face glowing in lantern light, but all she saw was the last log flickering in the fireplace.
She closed the door and pinned her eyes onto the back of her aunt’s head. Lou let down her light brown hair, removed the hairpins one at a time, and placed them in a pink glass jar on top of a bureau. “Albert didn’t tell you?” She picked up a hairbrush and brushed her hair with long, forceful strokes.
“Tell me what?” Clara held her breath.
Lou stopped brushing. “That he and Geneva decided to get married, too…as long as they were in Santa Fe.” She bent over and continued her hundred strokes. “…where it’s legal for cousins.”
Clara clapped both hands to her mouth and slumped against the doorframe. A score of questions raced through her brain, but she couldn’t assemble a single one into words. The sudden dryness in her mouth would have prevented her from asking them, anyway. She kept looking at her aunt, hoping she would say something reassuring. Instead Lou remained devoted to her nightly ritual as if nothing of consequence had happened.
Throat tight with emotion Clara stumbled into the hallway. She desperately wanted to hide, find a place where she could throw up or cry, or both; but not only was she at a loss for words, she was at a loss for a place to go at this late hour. Her first impulse was to run outside, follow the creek, maybe all the way to the river. She stood in the dark hall and sobbed, frustrated it was the middle of the night, and the only realistic place she could go was the room she shared with Lily.
Crying softly, she crept inside and sat on the edge of her bed. Across from her in an identical bed, Lily was already asleep. Clara unbuttoned her high-top boots and climbed under the coverlet with her clothes on. Bone-weary after the worst day she’d had since her mother died, she lay awake, trying to make sense of a senseless turn of events. Pa wasn’t supposed to get married again. He hadn’t promised that; however with her and Lily to take care of him, he didn’t need a wife. Besides, cousins marrying cousins, one of them much older than the other, was a complete muddle of how life was supposed to be.
With a sudden start she realized she would be seeing Geneva every day. They would be living in the same house—the one Pa built for his family—and her best friend, her only friend in this place with no neighborhoods or schools was now her stepmother. Did that mean she would have to obey her? Would a former friend, a girl close to her own age, be telling her what to do?