How to Hang a Witch (How to Hang a Witch #1)


by Adriana Mather

CHAPTER ONE

* * *

Too Confident

Like most fast-talking, opinionated New Yorkers, I have an affinity for sarcasm. At fifteen, though, it’s hard to convince anyone that sarcasm’s a cultural thing and not a bad attitude. Especially when your stepmother can’t drive, ’cause she’s also from New York, and spills your coffee with maniacal brake pounding.

I wipe a dribble of hazelnut latte off my chin. “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. I love wearing my coffee.”

Vivian keeps her hand poised over the horn, like a cat waiting to pounce. “All your clothes have holes in them. Coffee isn’t your problem.”

If it’s possible for someone to never have an awkward moment, socially or otherwise, then that someone is my stepmother. When I was little, I admired her ability to charm roomfuls of people. Maybe I thought it would rub off on me—an idea I’ve since given up on. She’s perfectly put together in a way I’ll never be, and my vegan leather jacket and torn black jeans drive her crazy. So now I just take joy in wearing them to her dinner parties. Gotta have something, right?

“My problem is, I don’t know when I’ll see my dad,” I say, staring out at the well-worn New England homes, with their widow’s walks and dark shutters.

Vivian’s lips tighten. “We’ve been through this a hundred times. They’ll transfer him to Mass General sometime this week.”

“Which is still an hour from Salem.” This is the sentence I’ve repeated since I found out three weeks ago that we had to sell our New York apartment, the apartment I’ve spent my entire life in.

“Would you rather live in New York and not be able to pay your father’s medical bills? We have no idea how long he’ll be in a coma.”

Three months, twenty-one days, and ten hours. That’s how long it’s already been. We pass a row of witch-themed shops with dried herbs and brooms filling their windows.

“They really love their witches here,” I say, ignoring Vivian’s last question.

“This is one of the most important historical towns in America. Your relatives played a major role in that history.”

“My relatives hanged witches in the sixteen hundreds. Not exactly something to be proud of.”

But in truth, I’m super curious about this place, with its cobblestone alleys and eerie black houses. We pass a police car with a witch logo on the side. As a kid, I tried every tactic to get my dad to take me here, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He’d say that nothing good ever happens in Salem and the conversation would end. There’s no pushing my dad.

A bus with a ghost-tour ad pulls in front of us. Vivian jerks to a stop and then tailgates. She nods at the ad. “There’s a nice provincial job for you.”

I crack a smile. “I don’t believe in ghosts.” We make a right onto Blackbird Lane, the street on the return address of the cards my grandmother sent me as a child.

“Well, you’re the only one in Salem who feels that way.” I don’t doubt she’s right.

For the first time during this roller coaster of a car ride, my stomach drops in a good way. Number 1131 Blackbird Lane, the house my dad grew up in, the house he met my mother in. It’s a massive two-story white building with black shutters and columned doorways. The many peaks of the roof are covered with dark wooden shingles, weathered from the salty air. A wrought-iron fence with pointed spires surrounds the perfectly manicured lawn.

“Just the right size,” Vivian says, eyeing our new home.

The redbrick driveway is uneven with age and pushed up by tree roots. Vivian’s silver sports car jostles us as we make our way through the black arched gate and roll to a stop.

“Ten people could live here and never see each other,” I reply.

“Like I said, just the right size.”

I pull my hair into a messy ball on top of my head and grab the heavy duffel bag at my feet. Vivian’s already out of the car, and her heels click against the brick. She makes her way toward a side door with an elaborate overhang.

I take a deep breath and open my car door. Before I get a good look at our new home, a neighbor comes out of her blue-on-blue house and waves enthusiastically.

“Helllloooo! Well, hello there!” she says with a smile bigger than I’ve ever seen on a stranger as she crosses a patch of lawn to get to our driveway.

She has rosy cheeks and a frilly white apron. She could have stepped out of a housekeeping magazine from the 1950s.

“Samantha,” she says, and beams. She holds my chin to inspect my face. “Charlie’s daughter.”

I’ve never heard anyone call my dad by a nickname. “Uh, Sam. Everyone calls me Sam.”

“Nonsense. That’s a boy’s name. Now, aren’t you pretty. Too skinny, though.” She steps back to get a proper look. “We’ll fix that in no time.” She laughs a full, tinkling laugh.

I smile, even though I’m not sure she’s complimenting me. There’s something infectious about her happiness. She examines me, and I cross my arms self-consciously. My duffel bag falls off my shoulder, jerking me forward. I trip.

“Jaxon!” she bellows toward her blue house without saying a word about my clumsiness. A blond guy who looks seventeenish exits the side door just as I get hold of the duffel strap. “Come take Samantha’s bag.”

As he gets closer, his sandy hair flops into his eyes. Blue. One corner of his mouth tilts in a half smile. I stare at him. Am I blushing? Ugh, so embarrassing. He reaches for the bag, now awkwardly hanging from my elbow.

I reposition it onto my shoulder. “No, it’s fine.”

“This is my son, Jaxon. Isn’t he adorable?” She pats him on the cheek.

“Mom, really?” Jaxon protests.

I smile at them. “So, you know my dad?”

“Certainly. And I knew your grandmother. Took care of her and the house when she got older. I know this place inside and out.” She puts her hands on her hips.

Vivian approaches, frowning. “Mrs. Meriwether? We spoke on the phone.” She pauses. “You have the keys, I assume?”

“Sure do.” Mrs. Meriwether reaches into her apron pocket and retrieves a set of skeleton keys rubbed smooth in places from years of use. She glances at her watch. “I’ve got chocolate croissants coming out of the oven any minute now. Jaxon will give you a tour of—”