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August, Salem, Massachusetts
"Nice pair a melons you got there, lady."
Lainie Trask glanced from the cantaloupes she held to the fruit vendor standing behind his table. Her brown eyes glimmered with fun as she hefted them higher. "They are, aren't they?"
"Buck for the two of 'em. Can't do any better than that." Lainie handed over a dollar and tucked the fruit into her canvas carrier bag. "And here I thought I already had a nice pair of melons," she said out of the corner of her mouth to her girlfriend Liz.
Liz glanced at her judiciously as they turned away from the fruit stand. "More like guavas, I'd say."
Lainie laughed and swept her glossy dark hair back from her face as they walked deeper into the confusion of color, noise and scent that was the Salem farmers' market. Tables and pushcarts groaned under the weight of baskets filled with crimson tomatoes, sunburst-yellow lemons, green zucchini, the strange, otherworldly fuzz of kiwi.
"Get yer bay scallops here. Bay scallops, fresh off the boat. Hiya, Lainie."
"Hey, Pete." Lainie stopped at the stall and studied the seafood on ice, then the man who stood behind it. "Fresh, huh?"
The weathered, sixty-something fishmonger gave her a roguish wink. "Any more fresh and it'd be hittin' on you."
She grinned and looked at Liz. "Scallops for dinner?" she suggested.
"Nah, I'd rather go out, assuming there's anyplace around here you want to go to."
"There's a McDonald's on the highway. We could splurge on Chicken McNuggets. Sorry, Pete." She gave him a quick smile. "Next time around. Come on, Liz, let's go get coffee."
The two women began walking again. "Chicken McNug-gets," grumbled Liz. "You know the owner of Tremolo just opened up a new bar and restaurant two blocks away from me? Small plates to die for and a six-page cocktail menu.You should have come down and visited me in Boston for the weekend."
"It was your turn to drive up here," Lainie argued. "I'm sick of driving down."
"Then move down. I mean, why are you still living up here in Siberia, anyway?"
"Salem," Lainie corrected, leading the way out of the farmers' market and onto the main drag.
"Salem, Siberia...it's north and it's cold. Same difference."
"It's not that far north."
"Far enough. You don't belong up here. You belong down in the city. I thought that was the plan. I mean, you don't have a life up here."
"I have a life," Lainie objected. She did, and one she increasingly loved.
"Oh, yeah? When's the last time you had a date?" She glowered at Liz. "Don't start sounding like my parents. It's not my fault. Most of the people I know are married."
"Of course they're all married. You're living in the burbs. You've gotten it out of order. You get hooked up first, then you move to Siberia."
Lainie rolled her eyes. "Sorry, I guess I missed that part in the manual. Anyway, I don't even know if I want to date," she said grumpily.
"You don't want to date?"
"I mean, come on, be honest, it sucks. You sit around, trying to make conversation, trying to figure out what you've got in common, trying to remember why you ever even bothered to say yes. I'd rather be at home watching a movie."
"But it would be better with some guy's arm around your shoulders."
"Well, is it my fault they never ask me out?"
"Maybe you intimidate them."
"Is that because of my six Nobel Prizes or my seven-figure income?" Lainie asked.
"Ha, ha. No, it's because you're...you. I mean, you're never exactly shy of an opinion."
"You're shy of an opinion in my family and you'll never get a word in edgewise. So I say what I think, is that a crime?"
"No, but maybe it's a little much for the average Joe right off. Maybe you could tone it down a little."
Lainie stared at her. "Whatever happened to the 'be yourself' advice? Isn't a guy supposed to love me for who I am?"
"He can't if you chase him away before he figures you out."
"Forget it. I'll stick with my idea about taking time off." If it took pretending to be a fragile flower for her to lure a guy, she wasn't interested. It was too much work, anyway. She was happy to give the opposite sex a rest for a while.
Liz wasn't, though. "I know a couple of nice guys I could introduce you to but you're G.U."
"For God's sakes," Lainie grumbled. "It's only forty-five minutes to your house."
"The way you drive, maybe. It takes me an hour. Guys don't want that. They want someone who's right there. When are you moving?"
Lainie shrugged a shoulder. "When the time's right."
"When the time's right? That's what you've been saying for almost four years."
"When I find a job down there."
"Have you been looking?"
"Museum jobs don't exactly fall off trees. I've been keeping my eyes open." Lainie stopped in front of a store-front with the legend Cool Beans painted above a rendering of a steaming cup of coffee.
"There she is."
Lainie turned to give a brilliant smile to the grinning, grizzle-haired man behind the counter. "Hey, George."
"You've got some kind of sixth sense, don't you? I just pulled a pan of blueberry coffee cake out of the oven. I shoulda known you'd be here. What is it, some witch thing?"
"That's me, using my powers for baked goods."
"Hey, if you've got powers for baked goods, come over and do something about my oven," he invited. "It's been running hot for the last two months. I'll pay you in coffee cake." He waved the pan before her.
Lainie sniffed blissfully. "My powers work best in the presence of an appliance repairman. Get one over here and I'll come chant a success spell. For advance payment." She reached for the pan but George pulled it back.
"Nope, I'm not buying it. Maybe I'll just stick with the repair guy."
"Probably best," Lainie agreed. "Does that mean I don't get any coffee cake?"
"I don't know. We start the new project next weekend. You gonna show?"
"Have I ever let you down?"
"Not so far," he agreed, and reached for a plate. "So who's your friend?"
She grinned. "George, this is Liz from Boston. She was my college roommate."
"Any friend of Lainie's," he said, nodding at Liz. "What can I get you, young lady?"
"Some of that coffee cake and a mocha, if you've got it."
"If it's got coffee in it, we've got it," he told her, putting together her drink with quick, economical motions.
"Aren't you going to ask what I want?" Lainie pouted. He set an already filled mug on the counter and put a slice of coffee cake beside it. "I already know what you want."
"Marry me, George," she said seriously.
"I couldn't afford to keep you in coffee."
"Wow, that coffee cake was pretty amazing." Liz patted her belly as they wandered along the Salem waterfront, past docks lined with fishing boats and white sailboats.
"See? There are some good things about Salem."
"Some' being the operative word. You really are just a small-town girl at heart."
"I'm not a small-town girl," Lainie replied, stung. "At least not anymore." She wasn't. She'd left the tiny burg of Eastmont, Vermont, where she'd grown up, and she'd never once looked back. She was a cosmopolitan girl who knew her way around a Cosmopolitan, and she fully intended to live in the city one day.
When it made financial sense.
And if lately her visits to Boston had seemed mostly noisy and rushed, that was probably just coincidence. "I'm going to look harder," she said, as much to herself as to Liz.
"It's about time." Liz stared out at a nearby boat where a shirtless deck hand was raising the main sheet. "Yum.You suppose Popeye over there would give us a ride if we asked pretty?"
Lainie grinned. "Down, girl. You're cradle robbing. He happens to be in high school."
"How do you know?"
"I know his parents."
Liz rolled her eyes. "Do you know everyone in this town?"
"I know enough, and unless you want to get arrested, you might want to keep away from Jared. At least until he turns eighteen."
Liz squinted. "He looks older from here."
Lainie patted her shoulder. "It's your eyesight, dear. Anyway, we've got a job to do before we can relax." She steered them toward the shop-lined pedestrian street that circled near the wharf. "I've got to buy wedding and shower presents for my cousin Gabe's wedding."
"I seem to remember you asking me up to have fun, not do your errands."
"But this will be fun, and you'll find it even more satisfying knowing you're helping me get a little item or two out of the way."
"Somehow I doubt it."
"Not at all. So, what should I get?"
"Dish towels," Liz grumbled.
"Candlesticks?" Liz moved to step inside the crafts store they were passing.
"Wow, and you're calling me small town," she said firmly, closing the door Liz had opened. With a wave of her hand, Lainie headed toward an art gallery down the way.
"Hey, he's your cousin, you figure it out," Liz protested.
"It's not like I was—"The Salem Witch'?" She stopped in front of a gift boutique and stared at the gothic letters painted on the window. "Is that like being the town mascot?"
Lainie turned around and came back to her. "She certainly manages to show up here and there."
"You have an official town witch. Are you people nuts?"
"Hey, you play to your strengths."
Liz opened the door.
"What are you doing?"
"Playing to your strengths. Maybe you can conjure up a present for your cousin. Among other things."
"It's a gimmick, Liz," Lainie protested, following her in.
"You know this stuff doesn't work."
"What? The woman who runs the witch museum says witchcraft doesn't work? Aren't you an honorary Wiccan by default or something?"
"Oh, yeah, that's me, the family witch."
"So you should feel right at home. Besides, every marriage needs a little magic." Liz wandered along the wall, studying the candles and herbs, the spell packets and charms. "So, let's see, how about a potency charm?"
Lainie rolled her eyes. "I'm thinking Gabe can do without that."
"Oh, really." Liz's eyes brightened. "Does he have any brothers?"
"You're about a year too late. They're all spoken for."
"Just my luck."
"We could always get you a love spell," Lainie said, picking one off the wall and scanning the back. "Here. You just make tea with these herbs, light the candle and dance buck naked in the moonlight for three nights running."
Liz eyed her. "Buck naked?"
"I'm just reading you the directions," Lainie said blandly. "I live in the middle of Boston."
"I'm sure if your dance is quick, you can get it over before you get arrested for indecent exposure. Better yet, do it on Friday night and the spell will probably be effective immediately."
"I've got a better idea."
Liz's eyes gleamed. "A love spell for you."
Lainie cast a glance at the ceiling. "Trust me," she said.
"The last thing I need is a love spell."