Wilda, while I tried to explain to her about the note that had me falling off my bike, cleaned me up. She assured me we’d have a family council of war about the ghosts, which made me feel somewhat better — at least I wasn’t alone in dealing with them. I had a whole family of crazy witches to help me out.
To patch up my knee I first had to get out of my tight, bloody and wet jeans. I decided I might as well have a quick shower to rinse all the blood off too — my hair, knee and hands all needed a good rinse. Then I hopped into some loose fitting sweatpants. I don’t know what it is about putting on a pair of cozy sweatpants and an equally cozy hoodie, but it always makes me relax. It’s like stepping into a warm hug — hiding in the coziness of it all.
After I was done being patched up, I didn’t know what I wanted the most: going to the kitchen to get my hot chocolate and drool over Jason, or hide away so that I didn’t have to face whatever conversation he’d be having with Jenna. It was a tough call, but hot chocolate and Jason combined are hard to resist.
I walked into the kitchen and found that Jenna had prepared the hot chocolates with mountains of cream and white and dark chocolate buttons from Hetty’s Hotcakes. I also saw they had been sprinkled with one of Jenna’s signature spice combos — cardamom, cinnamon and chili. It’s a surprisingly delicious addition to hot chocolate, given you don’t overdo the spice. Once, as a child, when I tried to make my own hot chocolate I’d poured so much spice in I’d ended up with a burning mouth. My hot chocolate making skills have gotten a bit better with the years…
The cool thing with Jenna’s hot chocolate is that you never know what you’ll get. She has a number of different spice combos, flavorings and toppings that she uses. But for sure they’re always scrumptious.
“Jason, you have to understand that times have changed. You youngsters, apart from having to deal with overpopulation and pollution, are lucky. You have things like painkillers, epidurals and safe sex. You may be an endangered species, but at least most of you will have lots of sex and die without pain.”
Jason, to my surprise, only slightly raised an eyebrow at this.
“I understand your point of view, but I still think that being an endangered species is a pretty precarious position, don’t you?”
Jenna looked thoughtful — she was enjoying herself.
“Yes, it is. If you think about the future all the time, but why not enjoy the moment? When you reach my age, the moment is all you have.” Then she looked up and winked at me. “Why don’t you two take the hot chocolate to the living room? The fire is on. I think Lulu can do with a good fire after her ordeal. Tell the ghosts to take a break and just enjoy yourself tonight.”
She put two cups on a tray and popped a plate of biscuits (some normal wheat crackers, some oat crackers and some crackers made with things like beans and beetroots…in our household you find interesting things…), fruit and cheese on there too.
“Dinner won’t be for a while, because Agatha is late and she’s cooking tonight. Hetty is still at the bakery — some birthday, or other. Wilda is busy with some potion and Jenny has fallen asleep. Again. I don’t know what’s with that girl. All the men are useless in the kitchen and I am too tired to cook. Here, take this.”
She handed me the tray with a big smile.
“I like this guy. You should bring him round more often. I haven’t shocked him once and I tried. Seems like he’s a good fit.”
Just then Wilda walked into the kitchen.
“Has anyone seen the bucket of herbs I put here last night? It’s for the wart salve. I can’t find them and people will kill me if I run out. Oh, hey!” She suddenly looked up, when she stopped searching for her bucket. “You must be Jason. Nice to meet you. Thanks for taking Lulu home. You didn’t see my bucket did you?”
Jason shook his head, looking bemused.
“I’m afraid I haven’t.”
“Oh, bugger.” Wilda shook her head and continued into the next room, while I motioned for Jason to come with me into the living room. I’d just about had enough of him talking to my British sounding mad as hatter aunts.
“So,” I said, as I sat down, moving carefully so as not to upset my aching head, “you’ve met some of my aunts.”
“Yeah, I like them.” He looked thoughtful and smiled that infuriating smile of his — as if he was in another world thinking a thought only he knew he was thinking. Granted that’s what everyone does when they smile, but he made it look so…mysterious somehow. Or else I was just obsessed with finding out what he was thinking, but I much preferred to think that his smile was super mysterious.
“They are…” He was searching for words. “…very much themselves. I like that. They seem so happy with what they do.”
I smiled. It was true what he was saying — maybe I should be brave like my aunts and be myself too, not wondering what others would think? Ghosts and all?
Just then the music started flowing from the piano. I whipped my head around, rather too quickly.
“Ouch,” I whimpered.
“You alright?” Jason instantly stood up, walked over and looked inquiringly into my eyes.
I tried to smile.
“Yeah, I just turned my head too fast.”
He nodded and inspected the wound again, then looked at my face.
“It still looks fine.” He put his hand on my head, as if to reassure me and I felt my breath catch. He looked at me for about a nanosecond while he held his hand there and I felt like time was frozen. Then he smiled at me again and walked back to his seat. As he did so I suddenly remembered, with burning cheeks, why I had moved my head too fast in the first place. I turned my head again, slowly, to look at the piano and sure enough — the keys were playing all by themselves, while the air had a certain shimmer to it.
Jason, after sitting down, followed the direction of my gaze.
“A self-playing piano?” He asked.
“Mhm,” I replied. I didn’t really want to lie, but nor did I really want to tell him the truth either.
“Only it isn’t, is it?” Jason looked at me with one eyebrow raised, his brown eyes twinkling with amusement.
I just stared at him. I was one hundred percent out of ideas for how to reply. “No, it’s a ghost called Josephine playing.” Or: “Yes, it is absolutely a self-playing piano and it is, as you cannot see, as there is none, set up with a timer, which is why it just now started playing. And there is no wire attached to an electrical socket, because, well, there just is none.” Or: “Yes, it’s a smart piano run on batteries and connected to an app.” Yeah, right.
Thankfully, Jenna chose that precise moment to enter.
“Hello you two, have you seen the teacup I was drinking from earlier? I put some of those arthritis pills Wilda makes on the saucer. Now I can’t bloody find the cup.” She shook her head. “Growing old is such a bore sometimes. I would tell arthritis that it can kiss my pretty ass, but that’s just what it did. At least the good thing about being forgetful is that you can date as many men as you like and then pretend you forgot all about it. And if you combine the arthritis with the dementia you can tell the man you’re dating to give you a back rub every five minutes as you just pretend you forgot about the last one. Due to the arthritis he’ll feel obliged…ah there’s my cup.” Jenna suddenly stopped her monologue and darted over to pick it up.
Just as she was about to leave the room again she stopped and turned to face us, smiling.
“Oh how lovely, Josephine has come back to play! Well done Josephine, playing a nice tune for these two.” Then Jenna turned and sauntered out of the room, in a way only she can saunter. She somehow looks like a glam old Hollywood actress, even though she sounds like a crazy Britt and spent most of her life in the countryside, meaning she isn’t very Hollywood at all, not really.
Jason looked at me with a half smile dangling on his lips.
“So, about those ghosts Lulu.”
He called me Lulu! I looked at him. He kept smiling at me. Did he think me a lunatic? Or maybe he was one of those people who were totally fascinated by the afterlife? Or with the paranormal?
I tried to come up with something noncommittal to say.
“What about them?” I asked. When in doubt, answer with a question. I’d watched the politicians!
“You can see them, can’t you?” His smile started to fade and he looked at me with an intense gaze. Was this some sort of trick question? He looked sincere enough, almost encouraging, but it could be that he thought I’d had a concussion and needed a brain scan…
“Erm…” I felt frozen. If only I could think of a witty retort. Damn politicians, clearly counter questions don’t work!
“When you’re in the park at night, you can feel it, can’t you? I’ve seen you. You know there’s something there.”
Now he was startling me. He’d seen me? The day he went into the bushes?
“Louise, there’s a ghost playing the piano right now, isn’t there? Jenna thinks her name is Josephine. Is it?” He looked at me intently.
“I, uh, erm…” How do you confess to seeing ghosts without being written off as a lunatic?
“Louise?” Jason’s voice was calm. Grounded. And he looked at me with those beautiful brown eyes.
“Yes,” my voice came out as a whisper.
I wanted to close my eyes and hide. How did I end up in my living room with half a concussion (not that such exist, but if they had) talking to my crush about seeing ghosts? If Josephine was watching I was sure she was getting the show of a lifetime. Or, come to think of it: the show of an afterlife.
I feared Jason was going to laugh at me, instead he smiled.
“I thought so. I see some of them too. Can’t see Josephine there, but nice work with the keys!”
“Thank you!” Josephine replied, startling me and making Jason do a double take.
“Interesting,” he then said and nodded to himself.
“What, uhm, what do you know about ghosts?” I asked.
Jason shrugged his shoulders.
“Not much, I can just sense something sometimes. And I’ve picked up what feels like messages at times. Never heard a voice before.” He smiled again. As if this was exciting. Maybe it was. I just felt a bit too…haunted…at the moment.
“You’ve always been like that? Seeing ghosts, I mean?”
Jason looked thoughtful.
“I think I saw a ghost once when I was very little. But then it wasn’t until I turned thirteen that I suddenly…I don’t know, felt some things. Someone once told me it’s the disruptive years of being a teenager that opens your third eye again. That you are open as a very young child and then again in your teens. Maybe they’re right.”
I nodded. Made sense. You open up somehow, because you have no clue where you are or where you’re going with anything and everything is hormone overwhelm.
“I had a bad year when I was thirteen. Mom died. I felt really lost.”
Suddenly Jason looked at me with sadness in his eyes. I felt like I should reach out and touch him, but he was too far away.
“I’m sorry.” What else could I say? No one should be robbed of their parents. I’d been robbed of mine too, but I had been so little, I’d become used to it by now. I still felt lost without them. Not knowing who I really was. Like I wanted them there to confirm it. But I wasn’t sad because I missed them in other ways. I had my aunts and uncles.
Jason smiled a small smile.
“It’s OK. Or it’s not, but it’s life. You lost your parents too. Lots of people do. Life is this thing we’re given and it’s filled with all sorts. Either we cry about it or enjoy what we can. Or as Jenna said: at least we have painkillers these days. And right now there’s not my mom, but there are all these other things right. Like my dad, my granddad and my brother. Life isn’t all good, you can’t be bitter about that. It is what it is.”
It was clear Jason had been thinking a lot about this. He wasn’t just smart, he was philosophical too. If possible I now liked him even more.
“I know, but sometimes it kinda sucks, right?! Like you can’t call heaven, or the afterlife, or whatever and have a chat with your parents. It would be really useful, you know.”
“True. It would. But you can talk to ghosts right, so maybe you can?”
I felt my own smile fade. Ghosts, so far, were more trouble than a direct line to heaven.
“I don’t think it works that way. I’ve only been able to see, or usually sense, ghosts for like three days or so. And I still think I might just be losing my mind.”
“I don’t think you’re losing your mind. I could hear Josephine just fine a moment ago.”
“Thank you,” Josephine said.
It was kind of freaky knowing someone was listening in on your conversations. Was I ever alone? Or did I have ghosts in my shower too? I shuddered.
Jason laughed again.
“She’s pretty cool, isn’t she? Josephine. I like that she plays the piano.”
“That bit is cool,” I said. “But,” I added, “I think ghosts need to learn manners. I hit my head today because some ghosts thought it was really good to put a note in front of my face.”
“A note?” Jason asked.
“Yeah, it seems some ghosts have taken to leaving me these notes. Like parchment. They disintegrate, they’re just some sort of illusion.”
“Ghosts can do that?” Jason asked, intrigued.
“Yep. Apparently. I don’t know how. I think they just manipulate energy somehow.”
“That’s right,” Josephine replied. “But those three are a nuisance. I’m going to have a word with them. They are supposed to protect you, not interfere with you. Well, sometimes we interfere to protect. It’s just they have a certain flair for…the eccentric. Runs in the family, apparently.” I could almost see Josephine shaking her head.
Jason looked thoughtful.
“There’s something I’d like to show you. Are you free on Saturday? I’d like to take you for a hike.”
I tried not to gape. Did Jason just ask if I wanted to go hiking with him? He looked excited…and almost nervous? As if it mattered if I said yes, or no? He was running one hand through his curls, leaning slightly forward in anticipation of my reply. For once, he was easy to read.
“Sure. What do you want to show me?” I was curious. More than curious.
“I can’t tell you. You have to see it.” Jason smiled a smug smile, which made my interiors feel like they were melting. He looked so gorgeous — tousled curly brown hair, shining brown eyes, worn black jeans and a sexy knitted cotton sweater (yeah, that does exist), his muscles visible underneath the fabric.
“OK, now I’m curious for real.” I could feel myself smiling, at the same time as my teenage hormones were doing weird things inside my body.
“You should be.” He looked very pleased with himself. And for the first time, I realized, I felt like he was present. It wasn’t just a fleeting half-smile, or a one-second connection to the world. That infuriating mysterious air. He was just there. Truly present. And I really liked it. He felt warmer. More relaxed. More alive. Less of a mystery and more of a human.
Jason suddenly spotted the cup of hot chocolate he had next to him.
“Oh, I didn’t even drink this yet.” Eagerly he picked it up and I waited in anticipation to see his face. It was always interesting to see how my aunts’ cooking and brewery skills affected people.
As Jason sipped the chocolate and cream, his face broke into a smile. He looked temporarily transported to another world and he probably was.
“This is divine. And spicy.”
“My aunts have a way in the kitchen. They sort of transfer their emotions into the cooking. I mean that’s what cooking is, really. You make what you feel like having. Jenna spent years getting this recipe just right. The base recipe I mean, the spices and toppings tend to change. She uses honey and maple syrup, instead of sugar. That’s why I like it. It’s sweet, but not in a sickly sweet sort of way. And she uses almond milk instead of real milk, but the thick kind. It makes it soooo creamy. And of course, the cream is real proper cream. No weird substitute or yucky spray bottle version.”
Jason kept sipping his chocolate with a silly grin on his face. I kind of wished he grinned that way when he looked at me. But at least he’d touched my hair…when he was afraid my wound had burst open again, but still. He cared. If so only that I didn’t pass out from a concussion, or bled to death.
“I pity the ghosts. They don’t get to drink hot chocolate,” Jason said.
“I heard that,” Josephine replied, still playing some jazzy tune, or other. “The afterlife is different. Think of feeling like you’re having the most divine orgasm. It’s that kind of state of mind. All love. But no chocolate. Apparently, you can’t have it all. Not even when you’re dead.”
At the mention of orgasms, Jason seemed to turn a shade darker, but he didn’t bat an eyelid. He must have been trained. I decided it was time to ask him why he was so unreadable.
“Thanks, Josephine. The afterlife sounds intriguing, but for now, we’d like to enjoy our chocolate.” Why was it that everyone in my surroundings was always on about sex?
“Your dad is a magician, right?” I asked, changing the topic.
“Yeah. He’s an electrician by trade, but he does magic. Will do a show for one of the hotels soon. He used to do them all the time, but then we moved. He’s just been busy coming up with new tricks. He loves designing them. I think it was his way of escaping reality when mom died too, you know?”
I nodded. I didn’t know if I knew, because my aunts were spiritual warriors — when people die they deal with the grief hands on. They face their own pain square on, then they seek peace in knowing that the person has moved on. Apparently into a state of orgasm if you were to believe Josephine. It didn’t seem to me like Sally was living in a state of bliss though. Maybe because she was stuck?
“I guess that makes sense. Something to take his mind off things. Must be hard to lose your life partner.” I shuddered at the thought.
Jason nodded. “Yeah, but dad kicked back. He just needed time to heal. He’s still struggling sometimes, but he’s doing well now. He smiles and laughs all the time again you know. It’s just sometimes he gets that sad look in his eyes.”
Jason looked a bit sad too and I felt for him.
“It’s good he has the magic. Everyone needs a passion. And they need to live it.” A smile flickered across Jason’s face as I spoke — it seemed like he enjoyed the idea of a passionate life. Shame I hadn’t figured out what mine was. “Does your dad do mentalism too?”
“And you,” I added, “you know mentalism too, don’t you?”
He nodded again and smiled.
Touché. I now knew that Jason only let others read what he wanted them to — that he had trained himself to be unreadable. Why I wasn’t sure, but he had. And for most of the time, he was unreadable. Unless he was totally relaxed, like just now, or totally in shock, like when meeting Jenna.
“So you enjoy doing magic?”
Jason shrugged his shoulders. “I went through a phase as a kid. Well, maybe it was just a year ago I stopped being in this phase…” He looked a bit embarrassed. “I like mentalism and detective work using mentalism…it’s fun. Like figuring out things in nature too. Understanding how things work. I’m just not interested in performing. Doing a grand show, like Elb.” He smiled when mentioning his friend.
“I hear you.” And I did. It was one thing acting on stage, but being yourself and having the pressure to perform a grand magic act? I think I’d go nuts.
“I should go home now. And you need to rest. Is your headache any better?” He looked at me with concern again.
“No, not really. But it’s not that bad. I will live. If Wilda’s herbs don’t work to cure it, some painkillers will. If it’s still bad tomorrow I might take a day off. It won’t be a problem studying from home. I mean it’s not like I’m in such a bad condition I can’t read. It’s just…movement hurts.”
Jason nodded. He looked…like he cared. About me. All it took was me falling off a bike, introducing him to my crazy family and revealing that I’m speaking with ghosts. So, in short, confessing to being who I am.