“Ghosts and spells and curses and visions and magical books?” I ramble a list of everything I’ve encountered in my life since Halloween.
“Ghosts? That’s delightful,” Mr. Bishop says dryly.
Sam and I meet gazes, and she starts to laugh. “What’s in these brownies, Martha? Magical herbs?”
Tate chuckles. When Sam glares at him, he lifts his hands. “Not my doing. Some things are just funny.”
“I think this evening calls for champagne,” Martha suggests.
My jaw drops with disbelief. “What are we celebrating?”
“For one thing, champagne is always a good thing and I suspect the Winthrops have a very nice bottle or two in the wine cellar. Second, we’re toasting to the four of you.”
“Why?” Sam asks, vocalizing my same question.
“You’re the next generation of the Salem coven.” Pride shines in Sarah’s eyes as she focuses on Andrew, Tate, Sam, and finally, me.
Andrew gazes down at me. “I tried to warn you. Life will never be boring with me. Are you ready for all of this?”
My decision is automatic. This is my fate; my future is with him. Whatever that means.
Nodding, I rise on my toes. In response, he presses the softest kiss to my mouth.
As we stand wrapped up in each other, I glance around the room at this unlikely group … of witches.
We could be having a book club meeting. And in some ways, I guess we still are.
Somewhere outside lurks our enemy, perhaps a whole coven of old enemies who wish us harm. The balance between good and evil is once again at risk.
* * *
Coven as in a gathering of witches.
I sip my champagne as the meaning behind the word settles in my brain. Around me, the older witches chat and eat non-magical brownies. Mrs. Howe sits in the chair closest to the fire, her hands occupied with knitting. I’d say it’s strange she immediately began knitting and even carries yarn with her, but she’s the least weird thing of the night.
The Wardwells chat with the Parrish sisters. They look like they’ve come from an ugly holiday sweater party, but I suspect their clothes aren’t ironic. Across the room, the Good sisters chat with Mr. Bishop. Pretty sure they’re flirting with him by the way they keep touching his arms.
The voices create a low hum in the formal library of Tate’s family's mansion. Andrew’s fire warms the room and casts its orange glow over the rich leather sofas and bookcase-lined walls. Flames sparkle off the cut crystal of my champagne flute.
My boyfriend leans against the wall, intently listening to gray-haired Mr. Bishop. At least Andrew appears to be engaged in whatever the older man is telling him until he hides a yawn behind his hand. His light blue eyes meet mine and his lips curl in a small smile meant only for me, sending warmth through my chest. With a single look, he can make me feel like we're the only two people in the world.
Not only is Andrew my boyfriend, he’s a witch from a long line of powerful witches. Apparently, I am too. I’ve known about my Salem ancestors my entire life, but assumed they were innocents caught up in the infamous hysteria. Not real witches who could create spells and perform magic.
Like the fire Andrew lit a few moments ago in the large, stone fireplace. With only his hands. And magic.
Because in what world do those things really exist?
They do in mine.
Using my right hand, I pinch my left arm to the point of pain to make sure I’m awake and this isn’t some weird dream starring my former crush and a pack of middle age practitioners of magic.
I rub the red mark on my arm. Not asleep.
To keep from freaking out, I make a mental list of the parts of my life that have remained the same since Halloween:
I’m still a junior at Hawthorne College.
Majoring in business and English.
Female with brown hair and brown eyes.
Lover of chocolate.
In love with Andrew Wildes.
Only child of boring, happily married parents, who I’m ninety-nine-point-nine percent positive are not witches. Then again, last week I would’ve said the same thing about my grandmother.
The woman who taught me how to bake and made me weed during the summer, has been guarding the unmarked graves of our ancestors under the same hydrangea trees where the aforementioned weeding took place.
Definitely didn’t know that until early today.
Not only is the family farm protected by ancient magic, my favorite grandmother has magic on both branches of her family tree.
And evidently, she has a dark sense of humor by making me weed the family graves.
All those times she sent me into the dark, scary cellar, I think she was testing me. Not only was she pushing me to face my irrational fears of cobwebs and spiders, but she suspected I’d inherited the family’s magical genes, but not the cute denim kind from Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
What was supposed to be a fun weekend of eating Christmas cookies and playing board games, all cozy by the fire, turned into one of the strangest weekends of my life. And that’s saying something given on Halloween my crush, now swoony boyfriend Andrew, lit a fire without a match or lighter.
It’s been less than two months. Now here I sit in a room full of middle age men and women, drinking expensive champagne in fancy flutes, and toasting to covens.
Scanning the room for my bestie, Sam, I meet eyes with Tate. He lifts a blond eyebrow in question. With his dreadlocks, frayed hoodie and slouchy jeans, he looks like he wandered in from the streets, but this mansion has been in his family probably longer than the farm has been in mine. You'd never guess he was a Winthrop, scion of the Winthrops. Not by his laid-back attitude or his outward appearance.
In response to his silent question, I widen my eyes.
With a nod, he weaves his way over to my spot on one of the long couches.
“Head about to explode yet?” Flopping down next to me, he slings his arm around my shoulder. Instantly I feel calmer.
Tate’s an empath. Able to both absorb and project emotions, he’s also the Resident Assistant in my and Sam’s dorm. Kind of a perfect job for him.
“It’s a lot to process. Witches and ghosts and covens and curses … oh my!” I add a little extra boost to my voice to fake some enthusiasm.
Right. I forgot to mention the ghosts.
According to Sarah, Andrew’s mom, every witch has a unique ability. Some, like Andrew, can control the elements. Making the rain stop, fire start, and snow fall.
Others like Tate, deal more with emotional and internal realms.
I can see the past.
I have no idea what that really means, given I figured it out in the last twelve hours. All I know is when we arrived at the Winthrop estate, I saw two people in fancy, but old clothes, and they led me to a secret room behind a hidden panel where we found a book I first saw in a vision at my grandmother's farm. Not just any book, but one that contains our history, and our secrets.
This is not how I imagined Saturday going. Definitely wasn't expecting ghostly visions when I woke up this morning.
No one else saw or heard the ghosts. Or the enormous real Christmas tree in the foyer covered in silver decorations and tiny taper candles.
Blinking, I stare at the empty entry hall. Not a speck of holiday cheer decorates a single corner of this huge house. But if I let my eyes lose focus, a blue light shimmers at the edges of my vision. A giant noble fir glimmers into the center of the marble floor and soft notes of music float into the room. The scent of real evergreen lingers in the air. Beneath the fresh pine, candle smoke tickles my nose.
With a shake of my head, I bring myself back to the present. It all disappears again.
I take a sip of champagne before asking Tate, “Why doesn’t your family decorate the house for the holidays? It’s such a beautiful house. I’d think you’d want to all gather here since there’s room for tons of people.”
“You answered your own question. Too many Winthrops in one place has ended in legitimate wars before.”
Staring at him, my jaw drops open.
“Nothing major. Mostly smaller skirmishes with few deaths.” He winks at me. “For the most part.”
“I can’t tell if you’re kidding,” I mumble, studying his face for a telltale give or tic.
“Unfortunately, I’m not. It’s a long and sordid history, fueled by greed, lust, and jealousies.”
“Sounds like the blurb of a historical romance or saga set in a kingdom long ago and far away.”
“Someday when you’re older, I’ll tell you more.” He sits up straight, pulling his arm away.
“Ha, ha. I’m a year younger than you and an adult.” My voice comes out sounding like a pouty child.
“What are you two chatting about?” Andrew slides between me and the arm of the couch.
“The Winthrop lack of holiday spirit,” Tate replies, dryly.
“And ghosts of Christmas past,” I add, a little reluctantly. Talking about ghosts makes me sound crazy.
“What did they look like?” Nonplussed, Tate asks. “Maybe I can figure out which relatives helped us. Could be good to know for future reference.”
“They both had dark hair. His was all slicked back from his forehead and hers was twisted into a fancy bun. He wore a tux and she had on a long, black gown.”
“Anything else?” Andrew asks.
“Her perfume. She smelled of tea roses. I know the scent because Gram wears the same thing.” I stop at the connection. “Couldn’t be her, because she’s still alive, right?”
Both guys remain silent.
“It’s not impossible,” Tate speaks first. “We don’t know if they were ghosts or projections.”
“There’s a difference?” There is so much I don’t know about this world.
Andrew gives me a soft smile. “I’ll explain more another time, but yes, there’s a difference.”
Tate clears his throat. “Don’t overwhelm her. Do you remember anything else that could help us place them?”
Closing my eyes, I try to recall any other details. “The house didn’t have electricity. Gas lighting outside. Candles everywhere, even on the tree, which seems like a major fire hazard.”
“Ahh, so that puts us early nineteenth century.” Sarah approaches our little group.
“I don’t think her dress was that old.” Images of Jane Austen characters flit through my memory before I blink open my eyes “Definitely more twentieth century, modern.”
“The Winthrops like tradition. It’s possible they resisted all that new-fangled, alternating current malarkey their neighbors were getting. Let me check when the house was electrified.”
“Or it’s possible Madison can see multiple layers of the past at once,” Andrew says, sounding intrigued. “In the farm cellar, could you see the present and the past?”
“It all kind of blurred together. Other than the random furniture and newer shelves, the rest hadn’t changed.”
Sarah sits on the coffee table in front of us. “I knew your abilities would center on connecting the past and present, but I’m impressed how well you’ve handled this new information. You’re doing amazing.”
Even if she weren’t Andrew’s mom, I’d have a major girl crush on Sarah. Dressed in all black, but funky, not morbid clothes, she pulls a chopstick out of her messy bun before rearranging her dark hair. Andrew inherited her dark hair and striking, icy blue eyes.
Martha scoots herself next to Sarah on the coffee table. Owner of my favorite cafe, The Black Book, Martha exudes warmth and comfort. “Where’s the good professor tonight? Didn’t he get the code black message?”
“Dr. Philips?” I make sure she means my English professor. “He said he had tickets to the Nutcracker.”
“Did he?” Martha gives Sarah a skeptical look from the corner of her eye.
“He mentioned it in class when he chastised us not to turn our final papers in late,” Andrew explains. “I never knew him to be a fan of the ballet.”
Sarah brushes imaginary brownie crumbs from her skirt. “Holiday traditions are nice. I always loved going into Boston to see the Christmas lights.”
Martha picks up her random subject change. “As a girl, my favorite thing to do was to go ice skating on the Frog Pond on the Common, then get hot chocolate.”
The two reminisce about their favorite Christmas memories, but the lighthearted conversation doesn’t erase the unease in my chest.
Andrew slips his hand over mine and gives it a squeeze. Leaning close enough his breath brushes against my ear when he whispers, “We can trust Philips. He’s my godfather.”
Remaining silent, I give him a small nod. I’m not hundred percent sure. Outside of him, Tate, Sam, my grandmother, Sarah, and Martha, I don’t fully trust anyone.
If I don’t fully know who, or what, I am, how can I be a good judge of anybody else?
“Given the book is safe and the house enchantments still remain, I say we table this issue until the new year, ideally until Brigid’s Day in February.” Mrs. Wardwell announces, pocketing a napkin full of brownies. “Happy Yule to all.”
I’d forgotten today is still the winter solstice. The shortest day of the year feels like the longest one of my life.
Others in the group murmur solstice blessings in response.
Sarah lifts her glass. “To the return of the light and new beginnings. How fortunate we are.”
The group, the old and the new, sip from their glasses.
“What’s Brigid’s Day?” I ask.
Sam leans against the arm of the sofa. “It’s midwinter. A celebration to prepare for spring.”
Sarah smiles at her. “You’ll be a good resource for Madison as she navigates this world.”
Sam’s dabbled in Wicca and magic. I thought it was a passing phase. Like high waisted pants. Maybe she really does have a sixth sense. She's taking all of this really well given she only found out yesterday about Andrew being a witch. I think the champagne might be helping.
Sarah sets down her empty glass. “Now, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but we can’t live off of champagne and chocolate. Why don’t you all come over to my house, I’ll make a pot of something, and we’ll chat. No point in dumping the whole history of the world on you tonight. Let’s get through Christmas and New Year’s first.”
“As long as you’re not making that quinoa and kale stew again.” Andrew makes a small gagging sound in his throat.
Sarah frowns. “Point made. Definitely not one of my best. I think I combined the stew recipe with a binding spell.”
Going over to my boyfriend’s mom’s house? Totally normal.
Discussing ghosts and secret books and dark magic threats? Not so normal.
Is that what this new life is going to be like? Normal but with a twist?
A horrible idea pops into my head. I whisper to Andrew, my voice shaking, “Will I be able to see all ghosts now?”
His hand tightens around mine. “I don’t know.”
Not the answer I wanted.
“Probably not. You’ve only seen the couple and you were concentrating. Do you see any ghosts now?”
Shaking my head, I peer around the room. No blue light and nothing shimmering in the corners.
I open my mouth to speak when the front door blows open. Frosty air brushes my cheek. All conversation ceases, and the room goes quiet. Laughter like small bells tinkling echoes from down the hall.