Part 1, Chapter 1 Summary
Twenty-eight-year-old Emily Bach meets her sister Jessamine (Jess) for her twenty-third birthday dinner. They are opposites in nearly every way. Emily is the CEO of Veritech, a Silicon Valley start-up company specializing in data storage; Jess is a philosophy graduate student who works part-time in a rare and used book store. Emily is a high-powered executive who is about to take her company public, and Jess is an environmentalist looking for her next cause. Both girls are beautiful, though the older sister is clever and rather guarded and the younger sister is “small and whimsical.”
After dinner, Emily loads Jess’s bicycle in her car and drives her home because it is raining. Jess would not have minded riding home in the rain, but Emily minds for both of them. Jess lives in a mansion which has been converted into apartments located on the edge of campus in an artsy neighborhood. The girls are greeted by Mrs. Gibbs, another tenant in the building. She is a “petite black woman” who works as a nurse and blesses Emily’s head. Jess has two-roommates, Theresa and Roland.
Once in her room, Jess tries on the designer outfit Emily gave her; though it fits perfectly, she quickly changes into sweatpants and an oversized T-shirt which she prefers. Emily gives her a thick prospectus for the Initial Public Offering (IPO) for Veritech Corporation and shows her the Friends and Family offering. She encourages her sister to take advantage of the limited opportunity, but Jess has no money and cares little about making more. She has only ten days in which to act, and she promises Emily she will do so.
Emily and her boyfriend Jonathan have a long-distance relationship; it is not ideal, but it does not occur to Emily to complain. Jonathan has his own start-up company on the East Coast, and she misses him, too. The girls’ mother, Gillian, died when they were ten and five years old after battling breast cancer. Knowing she was dying, Gillian wrote letters filled with advice for each of her daughters to open on their birthdays until age twenty-five. This year’s letter encourages Jess to select a career and let Emily help her when needed.
Their father has remarried; he and Heidi have two young daughters, Lily and Maya. Jess reveals that when she was twelve she read all of her mother’s letters—as well as all of Emily’s letters. Birthdays make Emily sad, for she remembers and misses her mother. Their father, Richard, lives in Canaan, Massachusetts, and he has become someone different than he was when the sisters were growing up; for example, he has taken up running, something none of them ever liked to do. Both girls think their half-sisters are adorable but lament that their stepmother never cooks. The sisters talk late into the night. Emily remembers their mother; and Jess remembers, too, when Emily talks about her.