maureen hardegree

teen and tweens books


He Haint Heavy

He Haint Heavy
Book 5 in the Ghost Handler series
Bell Bridge, July 2014
ISBN: 978-1-61194-515-7

Available at:
Bell Bridge (paperback)
Amazon Kindle (paperback)
Google Play



Can't a girl choose her own boyfriend without his kid brother haunting her?

Ghosts might not be heavy, but the guilt Heather's best friend, Xavier, is carrying around for his dead little brother weighs at least a ton. Of course, just as Heather's crush, Drew Blanton, shows some interest in her, Xavier's haintly brother Stevie shows up.

Ten-year-old Stevie has a simple request—he'll only move on if Heather goes out on a date with his brother. But as Heather knows, nothing involving ghosts is ever that simple, and Stevie is a determined troublemaker. With him interfering in Heather's love life, her Halloween may be more trick than treat.


excerpt haint misbehavin'

Chapter One

Truth be told, Xavier Monroe's house was haunted. And not just because it looked scarier with its shabby paint, off-kilter shutters, and unkempt yard than any of the other houses near it. This summer, after he’d tackled removing the unwanted pine saplings from their dogwood and azalea island, Xavier had tried to convince his parents to hire painters to fix the peeling white gloss, but they’d obviously found an excuse not to.

As the bus hummed in its idle mode, I, Heather Tildy, ghost handler and girl most likely to be labeled a freak, clenched my gut and tried not to breathe in too deeply as I prepared to argue my case with our bus driver Ms. Beadle. There was still a trace of David Butler's b.o. hanging in the air despite one of those scented cardboard tree cut-outs hanging off the door lever.

Rather than look at me, the fair-haired Ms. Beadle glanced out the school bus windshield toward my friend's neglected brick home. Home, however, was a debatable word choice at this point because Xavier's traditional colonial style house inspired no warm fuzzies whatsoever. More like chills and creepy thrills in its current dilapidated state.

The Monroe’s house, in fact, appeared more in keeping with the upcoming Halloween holiday than even their neighbor's across the street with all their Styrofoam grave markers, giant fake cobwebs attached to porch rails, and lights that would glow purple and orange once the sun set. There was good reason for that. Shortly after Xavier’s brother Stevie had taken up ghostly residence, Mr. and Mrs. Monroe’s home fell into neglect.

“This isn’t your stop. No can do,” Ms. Beadle twanged as I attempted the impossible while sweating like a pig thanks to the typical Atlanta autumn afternoon approaching summer highs.

She turned up the volume on the radio blaring Jason Mraz’s I won’t give up.

“Sit down,” some boy yelled, then muttered “stupid” and another word that rhymes with itch.

“Can you please make an exception?" I asked, not budging. "I need to check on Xavier. He wasn’t at school today.” I gave her my best puppy dog eyes. Not gonna lie, I’ve got the pleading expression down. The song refrain didn’t hurt my case either, or so I thought.

Her glance darted to the rear view mirror. Cars were backed up behind the bus and would probably start honking any minute. “Check on him after I release you at your assigned stop.”

“But . . .” I had nothing. You’d think my gray matter would conceive of some excuse that would sway her. “He wasn’t at school today.”

My bus driver did not pull the lever to open the door, which she had shut before I, at a safe distance, could follow David Butler, the freshman with legendary armpit stench who shared Xavier’s bus stop.

“Really?” the bus driver said. “I had no idea.”

Apparently, I'm not the only one on the bus with sarcasm in her arsenal, not that I was even attempting it with Ms. Beadle.

“And, um, the one year anniversary of Xavier’s brother Stevie’s death is coming up. So I really need to make sure he’s okay. You know, emotionally. Alright?”

“It’s not that I don’t believe you, Heather, or that I don't care about Mr. Smarty Pants. It’s that I could lose my job for dropping kids off at the wrong stop. Sit down.”

Foiled, I sat in the closest open seat. The bus lurched forward and the seats squeaked and shook as we rolled along to the next stop.

Seriously, some of these rules were ridick. I guess this is one of those situations, that my dad always talks about, where people are afraid of being sued. I was not looking forward to trudging up the hill, hoodie in hand, in the hot afternoon sun. Yeah, that’s fall in Georgia—cold mornings that encourage you to layer with cozy sweaters, followed by sweltering afternoons that make you wish you were allowed to wear tank tops to school.

After Ms. Beadle dropped me off at the corner near my house, I trekked back toward Xavier’s. The neighbor at the corner was changing out her usual porch lanterns with plastic jack-o-lanterns. She stopped to wave. "Hi, Heather!"

"Hi, Mrs. Rollins," I called back.

I prayed Audrey and her car pool friends didn’t drive by and ask me what I was up to. I'd become upwardly mobile since Zac dated me, Randy befriended me, and my last ghost convinced me to start that better foods campaign, which had sort of gone by the wayside once I got her to move on because I had to pull up my dismal grades. I was sort of willing to risk being seen at Xavier's, but part of me, an admittedly big part, was hoping I wouldn't have to find out if a sighting at a known geek's house would demote me. I knew it wasn't very nice of me. But hey, I'm being honest.

My only joy came from stepping on the dried up fallen leaves which made a satisfying crunch under my docksiders. Oh, and thinking about the sort of costume I wanted to wear for Randy’s Halloween party also lifted my spirits as I trudged along. Of course, my parents hadn’t yet agreed that Audrey and I could go to this party because of what happened to Audrey over the summer at another party . . . which really wasn't her or Randy’s fault.

I’d already texted Mom that I was checking on Xavier, which I hoped would score a few points with her. My parents really liked it when I acted like a responsible teenager. They also liked Xavier because he was super smart, had a pretty good sense of humor, and because he sometimes acted like my conscience—which for some reason they thought I needed.

I imagined myself in the costume I was hoping to borrow from Tina, who never wears the same one twice. It’s one of those sexy outfits with a short skirt and thigh high stockings. A German Beer girl or something like it. Only in my imagination, the risqué ensemble looked better than it would in reality because I had bigger boobs than the cherry tomatoes I currently sported. Go big or go home. Drew, the junior who made my heart beat faster and run to second period so I could see his gorgeousness in the hallway before Spanish class started, would see me in the costume and like what he saw. Not that he'd done anything more than give me hope that he would one day ask me out. But things could change at this Halloween party.

All I needed was Mom to agree to buy me one of those padded push-up bras that add two cup sizes. If I wore one of those and that German Beer Babe costume, I was certain Drew wouldn't be able to take his eyes off me. He'd look me over from carefully coifed head to pointy-toed stilettoes. He’d be wearing something manly and hot like a pirate costume with an open collar revealing his gorgeous chest muscles and hinting at the rest. Those ice blue eyes of his would lock with mine. He’d smile and walk over toward me. I'd pretend that my heart wasn't about to burst from my chest. He'd tell me I looked pretty and he'd want to know if anyone had asked me to Homecoming yet and—

I stumbled on an uneven chunk of crumbling asphalt that I didn’t see and nearly landed on my hands and knees in the middle of the road. Flushing with the heat of embarrassment, I looked up and down the street to make sure no one had seen my close encounter with a pratfall. The street and yards bordering my near tumble were empty of human activity. Thank goodness none of the middle schooligans were out and about to see what I'd almost done. They’d no doubt harass me. Makes you thankful that high school gets out so early in the afternoon. The other advantage? If you get your homework done, you can watch all the prime time TV shows.

As I approached the Monroes' house, I noticed the tall weeds sprouting throughout the browning Bermuda grass, which hadn't been mowed recently. Red, orange, and tiny yellow oval leaves and a smattering of acorns littered the lawn, driveway, and curving sidewalk. Even the squirrels stayed away.

Xavier's brother Stevie’s cool otherworldly presence materialized as I paused to adjust my backpack. The best way to describe this sensory experience is like when you smell food cooking but you can’t taste it. He hadn’t ever appeared to me, so I kind of knew he didn’t want my help, which was too bad for him.

No lie, I’m pretty darn good at helping ghosts move on. Not that I was jonesing for a new job. Lunch Lady ghost had really worn me out. And even though postman ghost who followed her was relatively easy in comparison, I was still in recovery mode. FYI: If ghosts don’t appear to me, I can’t help them. There’s a whole list of rules that I’ve gradually discovered. But I was here on a different mission than establishing contact with a ghost who supposedly wanted nothing to do with me. I had to make sure Xavier was okay. He’s not the type to miss school even when he’s sick.

If I were a different sort of person, I might be offended that Stevie didn’t want my help. But he was ten, and ten-year-old boys are still in that girl-hating mode. Or maybe he didn’t want to move on because he felt guilty about eating the candy that killed him instead of waiting until he got home for his parents to inspect it. Stevie had a peanut allergy.

Taking the shortest path to the front door, I crossed the yard and successfully avoided a hefty deposit left by someone’s dog, now attracting a few flies and one curious yellow jacket. The chill to my right that was Stevie stuck with me all the way to the doorbell. But he wouldn’t materialize or talk to me.

I pressed the button to ring the bell, which apparently didn’t work because I heard nothing. Great. I stepped back from the door and noticed all the blinds were drawn. The mudwasp nest in the top corner of the sidelight window was bigger than it had been in June when Xavier had squirted it with insecticide. I pressed the button again, to make sure it was broken, then knocked loudly against the hard wooden door, which kind of hurt my knuckles.

Maybe they weren’t home. I rapped again. I mean, I could understand that maybe they didn't answer the door unless they knew someone was coming over, but I was Xavier's friend and he had to be home. It was Thursday. He was probably studying for all his Friday tests and didn't want to be disturbed unless it was me.

"Xavier,” I called, “it's me. Heather."

He would have told me if they were going out-of-town or possibly to the doctor. He wasn't above using a little sympathy to get me to agree to go out with him, which I hadn't done yet.

I pressed my face to the glass to peer inside the darkened house. “Are they home or not?” I asked out loud, acknowledging the ghost literally chilling to my right.

Of course, Stevie didn’t respond. Or appear.

“Where is Xavier?” I asked him, turning toward the cool air.

Stevie remained silent and invisible.

“You know they won’t ever be able to move on until you do,” I said. Not that I was sure about that or anything, but he made me mad. And the way Xavier’s parents continued to mourn Stevie and neglect the one child they had left made me madder.

“Too stubborn for your own good is what you are,” I added. Not that Stevie cared.

“Who are you talking to?” Xavier asked, appearing on the other side of the glass sidelight muffling his deep voice yet scaring the bejesus out of me.

My pulse sped, and I pointed to the door.

Xavier obliged, opening it and thankfully waving me into their way too dusty foyer, not that I'm a neat nut. Sunlight streaming through the door's side light windows revealed a fine gray layer on the upholstered wingback chair's armrests. Rather than ask what I really wanted to—how long has it been since anyone vacuumed—I attempted to explain what must have looked like me talking to myself. “I was having a very one-sided conversation with your brother.”

The fine dark hairs that were slowly filling in to form a mottled five o'clock shadow glinted as Xavier shook his head vehemently, then put his index finger over his lips to shush me. One of the few things Xavier and I didn't really talk about was his brother. Today was no different.

“Who’s there?” his mom’s fragile voice called down the equally dusty carpeted stairs.

“It’s just Heather,” Xavier said as I sneezed.

“Just Heather?” I repeated, noting he still hadn’t bitten on my comment about trying to talk to his ghostly brother. “Thanks.”

Xavier groaned. “I didn’t mean it that way. I meant she didn’t need to come down. She’s resting.”

I took in his mussed hair, his long-sleeved gray tee shirt and blue plaid flannel pajama pants that were two inches too short, revealing his hairy ankles. “Looks like your mom isn't the only one who's been resting.”

“What’s up?” he asked, getting to the point quickly, which wasn't like him. Normally, he'd be trying to find a way to extend our chat.

“I came over to check on you since you weren’t in school.”

He smiled, revealing that dimple that counterbalanced some of his other deficits in the looks department. “You’re playing right into my hands. Resistance is futile.”

Yeah, unfortunately, thanks to my geeky father who somehow thought he was no longer a geek, I understood the Star Trek reference, but I certainly wasn’t going to acknowledge it. “So . . . why are you home and still in your pjs?”

Xavier shrugged. “I got sick.”

“Funny, you don’t look sick.” He wasn’t all pasty or coughing or anything.

“Stomach bug—last night.” He scratched his head, then his worried expression etched lines between his thick dark eyebrows. “You know, I probably shouldn’t have let you in here. Don’t touch anything, and make sure you scrub your hands with soap and hot water through an entire chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ when you get home. Trust me when I say you don't want this.”

“You don’t have to lie to me,” I said, certain that he was.

He crossed his arms over his chest. “And why would I lie?”

“Because we’re getting close to the anniversary of, you know, Stevie—”

“Two weeks away, not today,” he said, deep voice rising, his dark eyes glinting with hurt.

Yeah, I’d hit a nerve.

“Maybe you should talk about it,” I suggested. “You know, to one of the counselors at school if not to me.”

“Right. Because talking has really helped my parents move on.”

I reached out to give him a reassuring pat on the shoulder, and he shrugged me off, stepping back. “What don’t you get about me harboring germs?”

Stunned that he was rejecting my sympathy, I didn't know what to do. So I stood there probably looking as stupid as I now felt for coming over here when I could be home surfing Facebook.

He raised his arm to check the time on his wrist watch. Xavier was one of the few guys I knew who wore one. Most everyone else looked at the time on their phones. “Shouldn’t you be stalking Drew right about now?”

Low blow. Wait a minute. How did he know?

I focused back on my friend and his angry expression. “What?”

“In a nutshell, don’t you have better things to do than bug me?”

Maybe he was sick. “So now my concern is bugging you?”

“I don’t want your concern if it doesn’t come with benefits. I’m not your after school project.”

“You know, you’re being really ornery, more so than usual.”

“Because I’m recovering from a nasty bug.” He took a deep breath, and the sound of a toilet flushing floated its way down the foyer. “Believe me now?”

“I’ll go. Just let me say this. I’m sorry if the next few weeks are hard for you. I’m your friend, and I want you to know that I care. Okay?”

“Okay,” he said and walked over to the door to open it for me.

I remembered the treat I’d won in Spanish for knowing the word for fish. Pescado. A box of Nerds had been my reward. Maybe Xavier would want them. I recalled something about him and Nerds, and no it wasn’t that some people considered him one. I unzipped my backpack, pulled out the bright pink and purple box of candies, and shook it. “Here.”

“What’s this for, besides stereotyping?” he asked.

I almost laughed. “I won it at school today, and since I prefer chocolate, I don't want them. Then for some reason I kind of thought you did. Like them.”

He shook his head and lobbed the box back to me. “Not me. My brother.”

Strike two. “Sorry.”

“You’ll make it up to me.” His expression was thankfully hopeful, not angry.

“I will?”

He smiled. “I hear Randy’s having a party.”

“Yeah. So what does that have to do with me and you?” I asked, the hairs on my arms rising in alarm.

“Well, since you and Randy have become friends I suspect he’s invited you.”

I could see where he was headed with this. I lightly scratched my now itchy arms and neck. “My parents haven’t said that Audrey and I can go yet.”

He nodded. “Why would they after what happened the last time he had a party?”

“Hey, he wasn’t the person who slipped something into her Red Bull. His parents are going to be home for this party and they’ve hired security.”

“Wow, you must really want to go to have all those facts lined up . . . which means Drew will be there. Are you hoping he’s going to fulfill some adolescent fantasy of yours and ask you to Homecoming at this party?”

Heat spread up my chest and neck and made my cheeks throb in embarrassment. My skin begged to be scratched. How did he know?

“What do you think about me going to Randy’s Halloween party with you?” The sincere hope in his voice made an outright no impossible.

“Will your parents let you?” Yeah, I was being noncommittal because if he went with me and stuck too close, people would think we were dating, and then Drew would never ask me out.

“The question should be whether your parents will let you go without someone like me tagging along. And don't think I didn't notice you're avoiding the Drew question.”

I shrugged, which backfired when the sharp point of a large textbook jabbed under my right shoulder blade. “I assume Drew will be there.”

“Ah-ha. The truth. So don’t you get in enough stalking on Facebook?”

“I don’t stalk Drew," I lied, my raspy voice rising with the denial.


“I don’t,” I said more emphatically. Don’t you hate it when your friend knows you too well and calls you on stuff you’d rather pretend you didn’t do?

He raised a dark eyebrow. “So what costume is he wearing?”

“Very funny.” But inside I cringed. I’d been trying to find out. Randy wouldn’t tell me.

“Seriously, though," Xavier said with a snort of laughter. "In case I decide to crash without you, what will you be dressed up as?”

“I thought you were recovering,” I reminded him.

“Nice try, but I'll be more than recovered in two weeks.”

“Unless you come down with something else due to your weakened immune system. I've seen it happen.”

Xavier cocked his shaggy-haired head to the side. “Stop ignoring the question. What are you wearing?”

“I haven’t decided. I have a nineteen fifties style poodle skirt.”

“Does that mean you're going to wear it?”

Dadblameit. He'd read my not quite white lie. “I haven't decided.”

“Right. What is it? Oh, I bet I know. You want to wear something you shouldn't even be considering.”

“Fine." Sometimes I wished he wasn't so smart. "I was thinking about borrowing Tina's German beer garden costume.”

“Seriously?" He shook his head. "You mean you want to wear one of those babelicious costumes with the garters and the corset? As intriguing as that fantasy might be, I doubt your mom and dad will let you out of the house dressed like a—”

“Do you have a better idea?” I interrupted.

“How about going as a ghost? All you need is a white sheet and a pair of scissors.”

“Funny.” But then only Xavier, Aunt Geneva and I would get the irony. I have to admit it was kind of nice to have someone besides my eccentric aunt know about my ghost-seeing capabilities.

“Oh, even better," he said, smiling and revealing his dimple once more. "Go as Princess and the Pea. You could get a green toy ball and wear some princess costume. Much more inventive than something you could buy in a store.”

And less likely to be thought of as sexy. Unless . . . I could convince my mom to take me shopping at Victoria's Secret for the proper enhancement.

I had to admit, I kind of liked Xavier's idea. Making fun of myself and the preschool nickname that had haunted me my whole life was clever. Drew would think so too. “Thanks. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

“You forget I might go, too. Once you realize I'm your only ticket to your parents saying yes.”

“And what would you go as? Boy Who Pukes?”

“Cute." He took a deep breath. "It would be wrong of me not to go, now that I can see those wheels turning.”

"Wheels?" I widened my eyes to create an expression that read innocent of all charges. “I have no idea what you're talking about.”

“Oh, yes you do. You have that 'who me?' look on your face—the one that usually means trouble for everyone around you.”

“Maybe you have a fever, and its making you see things that aren't there,” I said. I was determined to get Drew’s attention at that Halloween party, and I'd never keep it if Xavier was trailing me that night. “See you tomorrow.”

“I predict you'll be texting me soon and begging me to come with you,” he said.

My eyes were drawn to the mud wasp nest once more. I looked around the rest of the forlorn yard.

Xavier's gaze took in the red clay furrows and then skittered to the dead impatiens in the crescent bed that he'd faithfully watered over the summer, but the bright pink flowers had withered like they always do once the nights cooled. “I should probably do something about all this,” he said.

Contrary to what you might be thinking, I saw that cry for help for what it was. And even though my rising social status was important to me, I realized that Xavier was more important. Not gonna lie, that revelation was a little scary.

“Would you like some help? I mean not that it's . . . I mean, we . . . I . . .”

He put his hand up in a halting motion. “No need to explain any further. I'd love some help. Let's say Saturday morning? If you come by early, you won't have to worry that helping me will ruin your street cred.”

“If I come by early, I won't get to sleep in at all this weekend.” And by sleeping in, I meant past nine a.m.

“Right. I forgot. Gotta get in that beauty sleep for Drew,” he teased.

“I have lots of other things I could be doing on Saturday,” I said with an indignant huff.

“I know. I know. I'm sorry. I get grumpy when I'm sick and my gut muscles are sore.”

“Muscles?” I echoed, lending the word a generous dose of skepticism.

“Yeah, you want to see?” he grabbed hold of the bottom of his shirt.

“No!” I shrieked, and we both laughed.

I waved goodbye to Xavier and couldn’t help but smile to myself as I took the sidewalk to the driveway instead of cutting across the weedy lawn. I'd made him laugh, and it felt good. Almost as good as I was going to look as Princess and the Pea.

One of my old dress up princess outfits that Mom had saved for her future grandchildren would be as short as Tina’s German beer maiden costume. I might actually look really cute for Drew. And sexy.

A cool breeze lifted my hair. I looked up at the leaves on the pretty gold-leafed maple next door which . . . weren't moving. The wind I felt wasn’t stirring anything but me.

That’s when I realized that little chill had a name and had followed me to the curb, what I’d assumed was the edge of his haunting parameters. Something Stevie had never done with me before.

No, I was wrong. At the beginning of the summer, he’d followed me, my first ghost Amy, and Xavier, while I pleaded for Xavier to help me get to Amy’s journal in the special collections room at the library where he volunteered. So his parameters extended to the front entrance of our subdivision.

Why had Stevie followed me today of all days, especially if he wouldn't communicate or appear? Had to be the Nerds. I took the box of candy out of my backpack again and left it on the curb near the Monroes' mailbox.

Weird. I was actually doing something deliberately nice for a ghost who hadn’t glommed onto me. I must be coming down with Xavier’s stomach bug . . . or something worse.


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