Alice could feel the contours of Lydia's spine and ribs through her shirt. She looked too skinny, a good ten pounds lighter than Alice remembered. She hoped it was more a result of being busy than of conscious dieting. Blonde and five feet six, three inches taller than Alice, Lydia stood out among the predominance of short Italian and Asian women in Cambridge, but in Los Angeles, the waiting rooms at every audition were apparently full of women who looked just like her.
"I made reservations for nine. Wait here, I'll be right back."
Craning her neck, Alice inspected the kitchen and living room from the hallway. The furnishings, most likely yard sale finds and parent hand-me-downs, looked rather hip together---an orange sectional couch, retro-inspired coffee table, Brady Bunch style kitchen table and chairs. The white walls were bare except for a poster of Marlon Brando taped above the couch. The air smelled strongly of Windex, as if Lydia had probably taken last second measures to clean the place before Alice's arrival.
In fact, it was a little too clean. No DVD's or CD's laying around, no books or magazines thrown on the coffee table, no pictures on the refrigerator, no hint of Lydia's interests or aesthetic anywhere. Anyone could be living here. Then, she noticed the pile of men's shoes on the floor to the left of the door behind her.
"Tell me about your roommates," said Alice, as Lydia returned from her room, cell phone in hand.
"They're at work."
"What kind of work?"
"One's bartending and the other delivers food."
"I thought they were both actors."
"I see. What are their names again?"
"Doug and Malcolm."
It flashed only for a moment, but Alice saw it and Lydia saw her see it. Lydia's face flushed when she said Malcolm's name, and her eyes darted nervously away from her mother's.
"Why don't we get going? They said they can take us early," said Lydia.
"Okay, I just need to use the bathroom first."
As Alice washed her hands, she looked over the products sitting on the table next to the sink--Neutrogena facial cleanser and moisturizer, Tom's of Maine mint toothpaste, men's deodorant, a box of Playtex tampons. She thought for a moment. She hadn't had her period all summer. Did she have it in May? She'd be turning fifty next month, so she wasn't alarmed. She hadn't yet experienced any hot flashes or night sweats, but not all menopausal women did. That would be just fine with her.
As she dried her hands, she noticed the box of Trojan condoms behind Lydia's hair styling products. She was going to have to find out more about these roommates. Malcolm, in particular.
They sat at a table outside on the patio at Ivy, a trendy restaurant in downtown Los Angeles, and ordered two drinks, an espresso martini for Lydia and a merlot for Alice.
"So how's Dad's Science paper coming?" asked Lydia.
She must've talked recently with her father. Alice hadn't heard from her since a phone call on Mother's Day.
"It's done. He's very proud of it."
"How's Anna and Tom?"
"Good, busy, working hard. So how did you meet Doug and Malcolm?"
"They came into Starbucks one night while I was working."
The waiter appeared, and they each ordered dinner and another drink. Alice hoped the alcohol would dilute the tension between them, which felt heavy and thick and just beneath the tracing-paper-thin conversation.
"So how did you meet Doug and Malcolm?" asked Alice.
"I just told you. Why don't you ever listen to anything I say? They came into Starbucks one night talking about looking for a roommate while I was working."
"I thought you were waitressing at a restaurant."
"I am. I work at Starbucks during the week and waitress on Saturday nights."
"Doesn't sound like that leaves a lot of time for acting."
Copyright © 2007, 2009 by Lisa Genova
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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