Authors: Karen Tayleur
“There are some things you should know about me if we are going to be friends. Like I don’t believe in ghosts.”
Freya Jackson Kramer has done some stupid things before, but this is the first time they’ve been splashed across Facebook. When she escapes to Vinegar House for the holidays, she thinks she’s leaving her troubles behind. But Freya’s troubles are just beginning. How will she deal with her manipulative cousin, Rumer? How can she avoid the ex-love of her life, Luke Hart? And what secrets lie in the locked attic?
This is a book for readers who believe in ghosts, for readers who disbelieve, and for those who are still sitting on the fence.
There are three things you should know about me if we’re ever going to be friends. The first thing is my name – Freya Jackson Kramer. Don’t bother teasing me about my second name. Luke Hart teased me about it once, and he got a kick in the shin, but I don’t need to talk about him and I don’t need to discuss my middle name. Obviously, I am a girl. Obviously, my middle name is not a girl’s name. It’s my mother’s maiden name and, well … it’s really none of your business at this point but it’s usually best to get it out of the way early.
The second thing is that I don’t believe in ghosts – not the scary white sheet, boogie-woogie type of ghost anyway. And yet … I don’t disbelieve either. I’m kind of sitting on the ghost fence, dangling my legs on both sides, not sure which way to jump. I think I might be here for a while.
And the third thing is that I believe in karma. After I interfered with the love notes at Vinegar House I am due for some payback. But it wasn’t something I planned, so that’s got to count for something in the karma stakes. There are other things you should probably know about me as well, but those are the three main things: my name, the ghost thing, and the fact that I believe in karma.
I live in a tiny place called Homsea, which is
a delightful seaside village chock-full of interesting antique stores and bookshops, and home to one of the oldest cemeteries in our region
. (This description is from the holiday brochure stuck up on the pinboard at home – I have no idea why it’s there.) I know. Fascinating, huh? If you’re looking for excitement and glamour and fashion and entertainment, DO NOT VISIT HOMSEA. I love it. It’s my home. But Homsea can be a little … what’s the word …
. Mind-numbing. Irksome. Tedious. Dull. These are other words that describe Homsea. It’s a very describable place.
While Homsea may not be the centre of the universe, I have to admit that it is the centre of mine. I can walk down the main street blindfolded and tell you the name of each shop, the special of the day at Sudholz Meats, and the person serving behind each counter – or sitting as is usually the case with Miss Maudy in the Quilt Barn.
The main street, imaginatively named Main Street, is long and wide, with deep gutters that run like the Homsea River when the rains break the summer dry spell. The shops are ancient. They were mostly built when Homsea was settled in the 1800s, and they crouch low on both sides of the street like our dog, Deefa, when he knows he’s in trouble for digging up the garden. The oldest ones are made from stone. Some have verandahs out the front. Mitchell’s Bakery even has some chairs and tables, which is where a few of the mums meet after school drop-off in the mornings.
If you take a left at the first crossroad into town off the highway, you will find a two-storey building. It was built by Heinze Gascke, the founding father of Homsea. It used to be his home, but now it’s a library. Further down is the police station where Rudy Heinrich spends a lot of time sitting in his car in the driveway facing the road, just waiting for out-of-towners to speed past him. He is a regular visitor to Mitchell’s Bakery and can often be seen shoving a pastry into his mouth with one hand while holding his radar gun in the other. He prefers the apricot danish because it contains fruit and this makes it a balanced meal. That’s what he told me one day when I was buying a chocolate croissant and he was waiting to be served.
My home isn’t close to the shops, it’s nearer to the beach. Our house is a nothing kind of house. It’s not really old and it’s not really new. It’s a long narrow building that kicks out at one end where Dad has built on an office so that he can do paperwork when he gets home from his day job. Some of the windows get stuck in summer and there’s a creak on the porch where the supporting stump has rotted away. Two summers ago Dad restumped the house himself, but he didn’t quite get to the porch, which was the reason for the restumping in the first place. Mum wants to get a builder in to fix it, but Dad keeps promising he’ll get around it to it. I wouldn’t be holding my breath if I were Mum.
Our long-time neighbours, the Humes, moved to Port Eden a month ago and we’re still waiting for the new neighbours to move in. The Humes were looking for a retirement home with more facilities than Homsea could offer. That’s what Mrs Hume told me. But Mr Hume told me plainer than that.
“Why would I want to move into a smaller house at Homsea Haven with no garden when I can move to a smaller house with a garden that someone else looks after? And a swimming pool! And free meals and a games room and dancing every Friday night!”
He nearly convinced me to move as well, except as always I was distracted by the way his teeth clacked off his gums every time he opened his mouth. After our discussion, I went home and brushed my teeth for ten minutes straight because he reminded me that I didn’t want to end up with false teeth.
Anyway, what I’m saying is, we lose a lot of local people to Port Eden.
For a long while, Homsea was the poor cousin of Port Eden where the buildings are newer and the multiplex cinema shows the nearly-latest films. Then the Homsea traders got the idea to market our town as
A quaint snapshot of yesteryear, filled with antiques and good old-fashioned friendly service
. This welcome sign was created by Porky Sudholz, whose magic way with words was usually restricted to the blackboard specials of the week outside his butcher shop. (
Snag a bargain today! Steak your claim on the best meat in town! Baa-gains galore!
) The trickle of tourists turned into a flood and the rest is history.
There are not many landmarks in Homsea. I’ve already mentioned the library, popular for its internet access and plush meeting rooms (courtesy of Miss Maudy who has turned them into a mix of
magazine meets the Arabian Nights), perfect for book clubs and craft groups. Think old people.
The outdoor cinema, which opens on the first day of summer and closes at the end of autumn, is also popular. Families with young children love to take along blankets and deckchairs and eat fish and chips straight out of the paper wrapping. It’s not a good place for making out, because you’re just as likely to be sitting next to your fifth grade teacher or the lady from the supermarket who is going to tell your mum. (Just between you and me, this happened to my sister Isabella. Mum thought it was funny, but she didn’t tell Dad. There are Things That Dad Needs To Know and this is not one of them.)
Then there’s the long splintery jetty that stretches out across the water like a grey pointing finger. Like an exit sign – this way out. Many people are in a hurry to leave Homsea. Maybe they’re embarrassed by its quaintness. A lot of my sister’s friends have left to go to uni and some of them haven’t been back, even for holidays.
In summer, the jetty is a tourist hotspot – no doubt about that. Couples shuffle from one end of the jetty to the other, then back again. Parents hold tightly onto the ice-cream-sticky hands of their kids as they peer over the edge. It’s fun to watch the blue swimmer crabs doing the quickstep across the sandy floor. They go sideways, left and right, like they’re faking a pass in a basketball game.
At the end of the jetty, which is stained with ink, fishermen dance their squid jigs across the darker blue water – jiggling and swaying their lures. Some of the tourists use the frozen pilchards from the Fish Co-op as bait, but the only thing this gets them is stinking hands that smell of fish and nothing in their bucket. I could have told them that. Teens, mainly boys, hang out underneath the pylons on the beach, smoking and lying to each other about the night before, and spying at girls through the gaps in the grey boards. Teens, mainly girls, hang about the jetty just above the pylons and talk about the boys as if they don’t know they’re listening in.
A few tourists still brave the jetty in winter, but mainly it’s the locals you’ll find, fishing lines in the water, woollen hats pulled down over their ears. For years, Luke Hart and I had an understanding that at high tide on Saturday morning we’d meet at the end of the jetty for an hour of serious squiding. Most times we’d hardly say a word, just casting and pulling in our lines at the hint of a tug. Then everything got screwed up …
But I don’t want to talk about that.
What I’m saying is that when I’m there, sitting on the jetty edge, dangling my legs and watching the water chop up into ruffles, I am home. That’s where I ended up after school on that last day of term before I went to stay at Vinegar House.
So the winter holidays started out like any other …
No, wait. Strike that.
The winter holidays began a little differently to the many I’d had before. It’s just that I wasn’t paying attention at the time.
That winter, everyone deserted me. My best friend, Holly, my sister, Isabella, and my little brother, Oscar, were scattered about the map. (Oscar, I didn’t miss so much.)
Holly was on a student exchange in Paris – Paris, France that is! Could she have been further away? Winter holidays are always boring, but at least Holly and I are usually bored together. Being bored alone was worse to the power of a thousand.
I was having a fight with friends at school, which meant I was staying off Facebook. It was just this thing that happened at a party … Anyway, I’d already spent five days away from the site, but it was still the first thing I thought of logging on to when I sat down to the computer. I was also screening my calls and texts. There were some messages I didn’t even bother to read, depending on who they were from.
Isabella was on a uni break and up north for two weeks visiting friends. Oscar had signed up for a school holiday camp, though I expected him home at any moment with a bad case of broken-bone-itis. My brother is accident-prone. He knows all the Casualty doctors in Port Eden by their first names. Mum even has her own car parking space right near the front door.
That’s one of Mum’s jokes.
She’s not very funny, but I’ve never told her that because apart from her lame jokes, she is mainly nice.
The phone call that started it all came through at six o’clock in the morning on the third day of school holidays. I like to count the weekends as part of the holidays – it sounds as if you have more time off – so this made it a Monday. I hate Mondays. Even on holidays. So it was a Monday, and the first thing I thought of when the phone rang, well one of the first things, was Urgh, it’s Monday and I felt the weight of Monday hit me like a truckload of frozen bait.