Rain at last. Much-needed rain the weathermen called it. Rain, drummed the little houses skyrocketing in value in Cupertino and Sunnyvale. Much-needed rain darkened the red tile roofs of Stanford, and puddled Palo Alto's leafy streets. On the coast, the waves were molten silver, rising and melting in the September storm. Bridges levitated, and San Francisco floated like a hidden fortress in the mist. Rain flattened the impatiens edging corporate lawns, and Silicon Valley shimmered. The world was bountiful, the markets buoyant. Reflecting pools brimmed to overflowing, and already the tawny hills looked greener. Like money, the rain came in a rush, enveloping the Bay, delighting forecasters, exceeding expectations, charging the air.
Two sisters met for dinner in the downpour. Emily had driven up from Mountain View to Berkeley in rush-hour traffic. Jess just biked over from her apartment. Emily carried an umbrella. Jess hadn't bothered.
"Look at you," said Emily.
"Mmm." Jess brushed the raindrops from her face. "I like it." University Avenue's stucco and glass storefronts were streaming. Runoff whooshed into the storm drains at her feet.
"You're getting soaked."
Jess swung her bike helmet by the straps. "I'm hydrating."
"Like a frog?"
"You don't have to be amphibian to hydrate through your skin."
"Get under the umbrella!"
Jess had a theory about everything, but her ideas changed from day to day. It was hard for Emily to remember whether her sister was primarily feminist or environmentalist, vegan or vegetarian. Did she eat fish, or nothing with a face? Uncertain, Emily let Jess choose the restaurant when they went out to dinner.
The two of them nibbled samosas at Udupi Palace, and Emily said, "I'm sorry I kept rescheduling."
"That's okay." It was two weeks past Jess's twenty-third birthday, and the restaurant with its paper place mats looked small and plain for a palace, but Jess didn't mind.
"Veritech has been insane," Emily explained, "and Jonathan was here. . . ."
"Oh, Jonathan was here," Jess echoed in a teasing voice. "What did you do with Jonathan?" She often took this tone about Emily's boyfriend. The longer the relationship went on, the more serious it seemed, the more she teased. Jess didn't like him.
"He was just here very briefly on his way to L.A.," Emily said. "The last couple of weeks have been-"
Jess interrupted, "I've been insane too."
"Really?" Emily realized she sounded too surprised and added, "Doing what?"
"I'm taking the Berkeley, Locke, Hume seminar, and logic, and philosophy of language. . . ." Jess paused to sip her mango lassi. "And working and leafleting."
"For Save the Trees. And I'm also taking Latin. I think I might be as busy as you."
Emily laughed. "No." She was five years older and five times busier. While Jess studied philosophy at Cal, Emily was CEO of a major data- storage start-up.
"We're filing," Emily explained.
"I know," Jess said in a long-suffering voice.
Jess was the only person in the world bored by the IPO, and Emily loved that about her. "I got you a present."
"Really? Where is it?"
"You'll see. It's in the car. I thought we could take it back to your place so you can try it on."
"Oh," Jess said cheerfully, which meant, "I don't mind that you got me clothes again."
"You wanted something else," Emily fretted.
"No, I didn't."
"No! Nothing specific. Maybe a horse. Or a houseboat. That would be nice. And a photographic memory for verb tables."
"Why are you taking Latin, anyway?"
"Language requirement," Jess said.
"But you know French."
"I don't really know French, and I need an ancient language too."
Emily shook her head. "That program seems like such a long haul."
"Compared to going public after two and a half years? It's true."
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.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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