The sisters' voices were almost identical, laughing mezzos tuned in childhood to the same pitch and timbre. To the ear, they were twins; to the eye, nothing alike. Emily was tall and slender with her hair cropped short. She wore a pinstriped shirt, elegant slacks, tiny, expensive glasses. She was an MBA, not a programmer, and it showed. Magnified by her glasses, her hazel eyes were clever, guarded, and also extremely beautiful. Her features were delicate, her fingers long and tapered. She scarcely allowed her back to touch her chair, while Jess curled up with her legs tucked under her. Jess was small and whimsical. Her face and mouth were wider than Emily's, her cheeks rounder, her eyes greener and more generous. She had more of the sun and sea in her, more freckles, more gold in her brown hair. She would smile at anyone, and laugh and joke and sing. She wore jeans and sweaters from Mars Mercantile, and her hair . . . who knew when she'd cut it last? She just pushed the long curls off her face.
Jess leaned forward, elbow on the table, and rested her head on her hand. "So, Emily," she said. "What's it like being rich?"
Emily began to speak and then caught herself. "I don't know," she answered truthfully. "I haven't tried it yet."
They hoisted Jess's bike into Emily's car and drove to Durant with the hatchback open. "Look at that," Emily said. She'd lucked into a legal parking space.
Jess lived at the edge of campus, where fraternities sprang up in every style, from Tudor to painted gingerbread. To the north, the university rose into the hills. John Galen Howard's elegant bell tower overlooked eucalyptus groves and rushing streams, the faculty club built like a timbered hunting lodge, the painted warnings to cyclists on the cement steps: DISMOUNT. To the south, Jess's neighborhood boasted the best burrito in the city and the best hot dog in the known universe, Pegasus Books with its used fantasy and science fiction novels, People's Park, where bearded sojourners held congress at the picnic tables. Amoeba Music, Moe's, Shakespeare & Co. Buskers playing tom-toms, sidewalk vendors selling incense and tie-dyed socks. Students, tourists, dealers, greasy spoons of many nations.
Jess's building was Old Hollywood-hacienda style: stucco, red tile, and wrought iron. Sconces lit the entryway, where the mailboxes were set into the wall. Jess paused, looking for her mail key. "Oh, well," she said.
An elderly neighbor climbed the steps. "Hey, Mrs. Gibbs, how are you?" said Jess, unlocking and holding the door open. "Do you remember my sister Emily?"
"We have not had the pleasure." Mrs. Gibbs was a petite black woman with freckles on her nose, and she wore a white nurse's uniform under her black raincoat. White dress, white stockings, green rubber boots. Mrs. Gibbs placed her hand on Emily's head. "May you always be a blessing."
"That was strange," Emily whispered as Jess led the way up the stairs.
"She's a friend."
"What do you mean, 'friend'?" Jess tended to collect people. She was friendly to a fault. She went through little fascinations, and easily fancied herself in love. "Do you actually know that woman?" Emily's voice echoed in the stairwell. "Does she usually put her hands on people's heads?"
Jess held open the door to her apartment, a real find, despite the rattling pipes and cracked tile in the bathroom. Eleven-foot ceilings, plasterwork like buttercream, closets deep enough to sublet. "She's lived in the building for, like, thirty years," said Jess, as if that explained everything.
Her roommates Theresa and Roland lolled on the couch watching Wuthering Heights on Masterpiece Theatre. Theresa was studying comparative literature and writing a dissertation that had something to do with migration, borders, and margins. She'd grown up in Honolulu but couldn't swim. Roland was lanky and wore pleated pants and a dress shirt and gold-rimmed glasses; he worked as a receptionist in the dean's office.
Excerpted from The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman Copyright © 2010 by Allegra Goodman. Excerpted by permission of The Dial Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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