My name is Elizabeth Tucker. I'm Elizabeth to my mother, but for as long as I can remember, I've been Lizzy to everyone else. And for as long as I can remember, I've baked cupcakes. I enrolled in the culinary arts program at Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island right out of high school, hoping to someday get a job as a pastry chef. I graduated J&W in the top ninety-three percent of my class, and I would have graduated higher, but I flunked gravy. My gravy had lumps in it, and that pretty much sums up my life so far. Not that it's been all bad; more that it hasn't been entirely smooth.
I grew up in Virginia and when I was in third grade, Billy Kruger gave me the nickname Buzzard Beak, and I carried it with me all through grade school. I got my brown eyes and distinctive nose from Grandpa Harry, and while the nose wasn't great, I told myself it could have been worse, because Billy Kruger's nickname was Poop Pants.
And then when I was in eighth grade, during a moment of misguided curiosity, I made out with Ryan Lukach, and the jerk told everyone I wore a padded bra. I mean, give me a break here. I was a late bloomer. Anyway, the truth is, my bra was so padded I didn't know I was getting felt up.
I got engaged to fellow classmate Anthony Muggin while I was at Johnson & Wales. Two weeks after graduation and a week before the wedding, Anthony and his Uncle Gordo were caught hijacking a refrigerator truck loaded with sides of beef. It turned out to be a lucky thing, because after I visited Anthony in jail and returned the ring, I sobbed myself through a couple tumblers of vodka, fell off the toilet in a drunken stupor, crashed into a sink, and broke my nose. When they patched me up, I was no longer Buzzard Beak.
So here I am with the cutest nose in town, and I've finally grown breasts. They're not huge, but they're better than a poke in the eye, and I've been told they're perky. Perky is good, right?
In January, three days after my twenty-eighth birthday, I inherited a house from my eccentric Great Aunt Ophelia. The house is in Marblehead, just north of Boston and southeast of Salem. I emptied my bank account to pay taxes on the house, quit my job at a downtown New York City restaurant, and I moved into Ophelia's money pit. Probably, the smart thing would have been to sell the house, but no one could accuse me of always doing the smart thing. Truth is, New York wasn't working for me anyway. The restaurant hours were horrible, the kitchen politics were toxic, and the executive chef hated cupcakes.
For the past five months, I've been living in my new Marblehead house and working as a pastry chef at Dazzle's Bakery in Salem. The bakery has been owned and operated by a Dazzle since Puritan times, and is now managed by Clarinda Dazzle. She has an apartment above the bakery, she's twice divorced, approaching forty, and looks like Cher on Cher's day off. At 5?5?, she's the same height as I am, but Clara looks taller. I think it's the hair. Clara's hair is black and shot with gray. If it were straight, it would be shoulder length. As is, Clara's hair is a huge mass of out-of-control energy coming to just below her ears, sometimes pulled back into a half-assed knot. She has piercing blue eyes and a nose and mouth said to have come from Wampanoag Indian blood on her mother's side. I'm not nearly so exotic, having Austrian and Danish ancestors who left me with wimpy blond hair and a body that looks more athletic than it actually is.
It was Tuesday morning, the June sun was shining bright over Salem, and Clara and I had been baking since five A.M. I was in my usual outfit of running shoes, jeans, T-shirt, and white chef coat. I had my hair pulled...