If It Haint Broke

If It Haint Broke

Maureen Hardegree

March 2015 $13.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-597-3

Book 6 of The Ghost Handler Series

Our PriceUS$13.95
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Freshman Heather Tildy is finally starting to fit in at Pecan Hills High—sort of. What she wants more than anything is to turn her Homecoming date with hunky Drew Blanton into a permanent relationship. But how can a girl have the date of her dreams when rumors say that he’d rather be taking another girl to the dance?

The last thing Heather’s big night needs is an interfering ghost, especially one who is way into grunge and likes to share unwanted advice about Heather’s love life. If Heather can find a way to quickly solve her new haint’s problem, she might have the romantic date with Drew she’s always dreamed of.

Too bad nothing involving ghosts is ever that simple.

Although Georgia author Maureen Hardegree concedes to having all the usual baggage of a middle child, she is NOT a ghost handler. She does, however, believe in connecting with her inner teenager and in feeding her active imagination—it likes Italian food and chocolate.



Coming soon!



Chapter One

COOL, CALM, go-with-the-flow—that was the mask I wanted to show the world. Or at least the exterior I wished the majority of Pecan Hills High geeks, wannabes, and in-crowd movers and shakers would believe was the real me. Especially on this, the Monday after my life had forever changed. But how could I hide behind my disguise when the words spewing from my lunch buddy’s mouth were so heinous?

"The shorter girl says, ‘It’s only a matter of time before he asks Alicia out.’”

The hewas Drew. My Drew, the guy I’d been crushing on since May. The guy who’d asked me out Saturday. I am not Alicia.

Suzanne smiled into the mirror in the main hall bathroom I rarely braved due to the haint who frequented its tile floors and metal stalls. The ghost who wore plaid flannel and had most likely body-slammed to Nirvana hadn’t materialized yet, but I could sense her nearby. She was eavesdropping on our conversation.

Once Suzanne appeared satisfied there was no food between her teeth, she went on in excruciating detail about what she’d overheard in her Financial Literacy class this morning. "And then they started talking about him probably feeling sorry for someone. That’s the only possible reason Drew would ask herto Homecoming. They’re so stupid, like I couldn’t figure out they were talking about you.”

Yeah, Drew Blanton, hottest junior this side of the Mississippi, had asked me—lowly, freak-flag-flying freshman Heather Tildy—to go with him to Homecoming. I’d thought it meant he liked me.

Blinking away the beginning of tears I wasn’t about to let gush in front of Suzanne or anyone else, I focused on something positive. Shop­ping. I like shopping, especially at Old Navy and the Second Time Around store. Audrey and I were going shopping tomorrow... for my Homecoming dress.

Here’s the thing—the problem with positive thinking is that when there’s something bad going on, your mind connects the negative to the positive, and that colors everything with a big, fat charcoal crayon.

Second try. Class. Biology. Study guide. Big test on Thursday. The small putty-eraser-sized lump in my throat expanded to a block of cheese. I turned on water, leaned over the sink, and splashed my hot face.

"What are you doing?” Suzanne asked, her normally even tones tinged with horror. "Are you even wearing waterproof mascara?”

Was I? I glanced up into the mirror which revealed that I, in fact, had been wearing regular hypoallergenic mascara, as evidenced by the rivulets of gray running down my cheeks. Great. Now it looked like I’d been crying.

Flushing sounded in the stall closest to me. The painted metal door opened, and the girl who’d been in there and who had apparently been listening to us, took one look at my face and bolted without washing her hands. I was sure by the time I entered my sixth period Biology class, Drew would have heard I was crying in the bathroom about him and Alicia.

"Sorry, I thought we were alone,” Suzanne said, then waved her hand in front of the sensor for paper to wipe my dripping hands and face.

The gears ground, but no rough brown toweling spewed. Her close-set eyes widened. "No.”

"Tissue?” I asked.

She dug around her purse and lifted a five-inch receipt from some fast food restaurant. "How ’bout this?”

I wiped but only smeared the runny makeup worse.

"And I thought I was a mess,” someone not Suzanne said. The throaty voice sounded like whoever it belonged to might have been a good singer. I peeked under the stall doors and didn’t see any feet. Maybe it was the ghost. She’d approached me before.

I turned the water on again and splashed and rubbed to get the rest of the mascara trails off my face. I added soap that ended up stinging my eyes. I splashed more water on my face that was finally cooling off, and then, because I had nothing else available, I wiped my face on the front of my shirt. Probably not the smartest of moves.

"If you’d have asked me, I would’ve suggested doing that on the back inside,” the disembodied voice remarked. She popped her spectral gum. It was the ghost who patrolled the bathroom.

Carefully, I looked in the mirror, a safe way to view a ghost if you’re a handler who isn’t ready to take a spirit on, and the hairs on my right arm lifted like a cold breeze was blowing. Chill bumps rose. And there she was. Owner of the voice. Plaid-wearing, Doc Martens sporting, gum-chewing grunge girl ghost.

I didn’t want, much less need, a glomming right now.

Having moved quite a few haints along since the beginning of sum­mer, when I’d suddenly been gifted with this ability, I was tempted to acknowledge this flannel-sporting chick. However, adding her to my To Do list this particular week, given that I had to buy a dress and go on my first date with Drew, wouldn’t be prudent. Especially if I ever wanted to have a second date with him.

"Um, excuse me,” a voice that wasn’t Suzanne’s or grunge girl ghost’s said. I looked over by the door, but no one had come in. On my left side, a small waft of cold air expanded so that now both sides of my body were covered in goose bumps. I wanted the jacket I’d shoved in my locker this morning.

Heart pounding, I quickly figured out twice the chill meant two ghosts trying to attach themselves to me at the same time. Okay, that was something I hadn’t anticipated I’d be dealing with today. Careful not to make eye contact with either one, I watched through the safety of the mirror above the center sink reflecting a preppy, headband-wearing, sweater-tied-over-her-shoulders haint.

"What are you doing here?” the no-longer-mellow voice of grunge-l oving ghost challenged.

"I need to speak with Heather. Forget about this guy and focus on—”

"Shut up,” Grunge Ghost said and triple-popped her gum for empha­sis.

Crappola with a capital C. My supersensitive skin tingled, the usual precursor to hives. A ghostly rumble was not penciled in my agenda notebook for this afternoon. And this new haint I hadn’t mapped on my handy-dandy chart knew my name. Not good. The seam under the arm­pit of my cotton long-sleeved tee, now dampening, made itself known to me. The itch was only seconds away.

Suzanne was totally oblivious to my extrasensory pickle, and I needed to keep it that way. "Do you at least have a sweater in your locker?” she asked.

I looked down at the smears covering my shirt. "How about a puffy jacket?”

"That’ll look weird, like you’re trying to hide something.”

"I am.” Sometimes Miss In-the-Running-for-Salutatorian wasn’t so smart.

Grunge Ghost flipped her waist-length, center-parted hair and faced the new haint. "I called dibs on this bathroom years ago, and I saw Heather first.”

"Maybe you saw her before I did,” Preppy Ghost said, hooking her thumb at me for emphasis, "but if she’d wanted to help you, she would have by now. Besides, I’ve taken a poll of the others, and we feel it’s time for a little redistricting.”

Now queasy and itchy, I questioned what would erupt first, the con­tents of my stomach or hives. I’d mapped out where all the ghosts along my usual class routes were, and I’d been able to avoid them sticking to me until I was ready, somewhat willing, and able. If this preppy haint had her way, I wouldn’t know who was haunting where.

I didn’t like this new ghost, and I didn’t like how she was already try­ing to boss me around. Been there, done that with Lunch Lady Ms. King, and I wasn’t ever doing it again.

Grunge Ghost moved around me to float nose to nose with her preppy rival. "So, what you’re really saying is that you’re not happy with your haunting parameters, and you’re trying to bully the others into agree­ing with you.”

"Wouldn’t you like a little more freedom?” Preppy Ghost asked, her girlish tone smug, like she’d already won the battle.

"I’m saying, don’t stir the pot.” Grunge Ghost waved her plaid flan­nel-covered arms around, creating cold air currents. "Let sleeping dogs lie. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

I’d heard similar flawed advice from my older sister Audrey only yes­terday, when she caught me checking Drew’s Facebook status. Similar exasperated tone of voice, too.

I couldn’t shake the feeling, though, that Preppy Ghost was not one to sit back and wait her turn. Ever.

"Did you hear me, Heather?” Suzanne said, bent over at the waist and brushing her hair from the underside to create volume.

"Not exactly,” I admitted.

"I said I hope the dress you bought is killer. That would show every­one who doubts your ability to be anything more than a pity date.”

Problem fifty million and one, killer meant ka-ching. I had no job, and my family lived on a pretty strict budget. Problem fifty million and two reared its ugly head. I had less than five days to find a Homecoming dress. "I don’t have one yet.”

She straightened, then dropped her brush on the tile floor as three girls I didn’t know walked in. After giving my damp, dirty long-sleeved tee the once over, they entered the empty stalls.

"What are you going to do?” Suzanne asked, close-set eyes wide in amazement. "Everything’s picked over.”

"It’s a dress, not the Holy Grail,” I heard myself say, like I wasn’t wor­ried in the least. I couldn’t let those girls in the stalls overhear that I cared. Not that they even knew what we were talking about. I couldn’t let Suzanne see I was having a qualm or two. And it’s not like I’d have bought a dress without being asked. Some girls might, but that wasn’t me.

Cool. Calm. Go-with-the-flow. "Besides, Audrey’s taking me tomorrow, and she’s really good at shopping.”

"I guess.” Suzanne focused once more on her reflection in the mir­ror. "I really need my eyebrows done. I hope I can get in for a threading this week.”

Why was I friends with her? Um, yeah. No one else to eat lunch with at the beginning of the year, and once I got into a habit of any sort, it was hard to break. Take ghost handling, for instance. Now that I saw them everywhere, I’d gotten into this groove of helping them.

Grunge Girl had a point in her favor when I made my decision later. She’d been trying to get me to notice her since school started. I just hadn’t acknowledged her, which gets the whole moving-on thing rolling. Other ghosts had been a little more insistent or, in Xavier’s brother Stevie’s case, needy.

Xavier. My thoughts derailed as I recalled his all-too-interesting kiss on Halloween night, the same night Drew had asked me to Homecom­ing. My stomach did a half gainer. Drew and I were going to Homecom­ing. Drew, the hot junior for whom I’d spent months on end boxing my way out of the funny friend category and into the girl-he’d-like-to-date corner. I might be getting an ulcer. Seriously.

Exhausting her eyebrow contemplation, Suzanne took her phone out of her purse. I had the distinct feeling whatever was going to happen next would make my day worse. She clicked on her Facebook icon. "Last thing before we head out of here, we need to check Drew’s page. What’s your password?”

"Excuse me?”

"I’m not friends with him. We need to know if there’s anything suspi­cious going on.”

I wasn’t too sure where this we had come from. I was the one who needed to know, and I’d deal with it after school.

"Better now than later,” Suzanne said.

Okay, she had a point. I didn’t want to be further blindsided. With more than a few qualms, I gave her my current password. "Roquefort, one, five. The one is spelled out. The five is a number.”

I’d change it before sixth period started. "I swear if you post any­thing as me, I’ll...” I couldn’t think of anything really bad to threaten her with.

She thumbed away and then raised her three-by-two-inch screen. "Look at this.”

I glanced down at Drew’s page. Not only was his status still set at sin­gle, this Alicia Allen had posted something on his wall. "Looking forward to seeing you at Homecoming Court rehearsal this afternoon.”

She was pretty. You know, the kind of girl with a luminescent beauty, whose makeup doesn’t sweat off during PE like mine does. The kind of girl who never has a bad hair day. The kind of girl who didn’t wipe her face on the front of her shirt without thinking. She could have any guy she wanted—including mine.

That lump that had been growing in my throat swelled to the size of Gibraltar. I tried to think of something happy to dissolve it, but I couldn’t. I was seriously in danger of crying, and once I started I didn’t know if I’d be able to stop.

This girl was after him, like I didn’t even exist, like he wasn’t in a rela­tionship with me... because he wasn’t. It was one date.

Not wanting any of the tears filling my eyes to fall, I focused on the blurry fluorescent bulbs in the ceiling as Suzanne clicked on Alicia’s name, so we could gather more intel from her profile.

"O-kayyy,” Suzanne said. "She’s not in a relationship, and she doesn’t believe in setting privacy controls.”

I wasn’t sure if her not caring that anyone could see her stuff held any significance. "Is that everything?”

Suzanne pursed her lips. "Not exactly. The first girl in my class, I think her name is Danielle, she also said he asked you so last minute because Homecoming Court people have to have a date, and Alicia had already been asked by someone else.”

My heart bled with that little jab. Suzanne was getting too much en­joyment out of relaying these painful nuggets.

"Hey, Heather,” Grunge Ghost said, gnawing on her gum and materi­alizing next to Suzanne, who rubbed her arms at the sudden temperature decrease. "I can help you.”

Doubtful. It was rarely about them helping me.

Even if I was willing to give Grunge kudos for persistence, I wasn’t willing to take her on now. I had enough to deal with, thank you very much. One, Drew liked some other girl but asked me to Homecoming. Two, I still wanted him to want to be in a relationship with me. Three, Xavier wanted to be in a relationship with me. I’d heard of a romantic triangle before, but what I was dealing with had more sides. A quadran­gle? I really didn’t need a ghost in the mix. Maybe later. Maybe next week.

"I scratch your back, you scratch mine,” Grunge offered.

I didn’t look her in her filmy eyes. I focused on her scuffed Doc Martens.

"I pretty much know how to deal with guys,” Grunge Ghost added, her voice once again mellow, kind even.

I glanced over at Suzanne, who was blathering on with her recipe for a successful date. "Laugh at everything he says. For some unknown reason, they like ditsy. Case in point, Tina. And show some cleavage.”

"I’m pretty sure that’s not my best feature.”

Assessing my potential, she glanced at my less-flat-than-it-used-to- be chest. "There are bras that can help you fake it.”

"You really want her advice?” Grunge Ghost snorted.

No offense to anyone alive or otherwise, but I found it hard to be­lieve Grunge, who was more tomboy than guy magnet, was ever all that clued in when it came to dating. Sure, her ghostly image wasn’t ugly, but she looked nothing like my living friend Tina, who had males lining up to date her.

A chill wind blew by me, and Grunge went flying. I turned to look in the mirror at the area where the ghost had been floating. The preppy haint who wanted me to focus was hovering in Grunge’s place.

Grunge was nowhere close to happy. "Hey! No cuts.”

Preppy Ghost smoothed her straight, blunt hair. "I don’t have time to wait for her to decide to help you.”

Grunge put her hands on her hips. "So your problem is more im­portant than mine?”

"Uh, yeah.”

For what it’s worth, I knew Grunge Ghost was being rhetorical, and I kind of liked her sass. Not that I was planning on helping either of them this week. If I feltinclined to help one of them, it wouldn’t be the cutter—and by cutter, I mean the ghost who didn’t want to wait her turn.

Suzanne screamed, "Heather!”

"What?” Sometimes, no, make that most of the time, my lunch friend was extremely annoying.

"I’m talking to you about, hello, the biggest problem you’ve ever had to face to date. No pun intended.”

Biggest? Hardly. Most emotionally devastating—possibly.

"I’m thinking about it,” I told her, which was true. A wrong move could ruin everything. Drew had asked me out, and I had to make the most of it. Be fun and cute and turn this one date into a relationship. None of that would happen if this Alicia girl got her hooks into him, which, if word in the hall could be trusted, she’d already accomplished.

"What do you think I should do? I mean, it’s just one date, so I can’t demand he stay away from her.”

"You’re right about that,” Suzanne said with a smirk. She shrugged. "I guess things will work out with you and Drew if it’s meant to be.” Meaning it wouldn’t, because everyone who was even barely acquainted with me knew I had horrible luck.

Grunge Ghost sighed heavily. I looked at her in the mirror. "Not the way to go. If I were you, I’d crash that rehearsal this afternoon.”

"No, she needs to forget him entirely,” Preppy Ghost said. "You tell him you’re not going to Homecoming. Focus on school.”

I couldn’t do either one of their suggestions. Or could I? I wasn’t can­celling, and if I crashed the Homecoming Court practice, then this Alicia girl would know that I knewthat she was after Drew. Being cool and seemingly non-caring was the way to approach it, right? Unless that made him think I really didn’t give a flip.

Why wasn’t life any easier once you got the boy?

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