Anastasiya Volochkova v.., p.1

Splitting Harriet, страница 1

 

Splitting Harriet
 


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Splitting Harriet


  Praise for

  Splitting Harriet

  “Tamara Leigh takes her experienced romance hand and delights readers with Chick Lit that sparkles and characters who come alive.”

  —KRISTIN BILLERBECK, author of The Trophy Wives Club

  “Can a rebel ever truly be reformed? This story of a prodigal daughter returned home proves God doesn’t want us to rehabilitate ourselves; he just wants us to let him change our hearts. A soul-satisfying read, Leigh’s vibrant story of forgiveness and grace is peopled with characters as colorful as a club-sized container of Jelly Bellys.”

  —SIRI L. MITCHELL, author of The Cubicle Next Door

  “Tamara Leigh delivers a thoroughly enjoyable story in Splitting Harriet. Harri dances off the pages and straight into our hearts with her hardheaded loyalty to the tradition-loving members of her church. Leigh digs deep as she delves into the inner workings of a church struggling with growth as seen through the eyes of its most compassionate and stubborn member. There’s a Harri in each of us, which is why we love her so much.”

  —VIRGINIA SMITH, author of Stuck in the Middle

  “Kudos to novelist Tamara Leigh. You’ll fall in love with Harriet. She’s quirky and slightly neurotic, a gal with a past who loves Jesus, snarfs jelly beans, and lives in a senior-citizen trailer park. Splitting Harriet raises the bar for Christian Chick Lit. This is a story with an edge, one that dares to go a bit deeper, yet entertains from beginning to end. Highly recommended!”

  —ANNETTE SMITH, author of A Bigger Life and A Crooked Path

  “Splitting Harriet is every bit as clever as its title. With a cast of characters sure to make you smile, this book will not disappoint. Harriet’s bad-girl past and imperfect-but-trying present make her relatable to the average woman who cringes at the rebellions of her own youth. If you’re anything like me, you’ll become as addicted to Harriet as she is to candy!”

  —TRACEY BATEMAN, author of Catch a Rising Star and Defiant Heart

  “No split decision—Splitting Harriet is a fast, fun read. Harri is both as sweet as her Jelly Bellys and as forthright as a country waitress. Readers will cheer as Harri overcomes her fear of failure and of letting go to choose freedom, joy, and grace.”

  —SANDRA BYRD, author of Let Them Eat Cake

  “I love Harriet—prickly yet caring, full of self-doubt but trying, loving God but struggling. In other words, Harriet is just like us. You will love her too as well as the others at First Grace. Guaranteed.”

  —GAYLE ROPER, award-winning author of Fatal Deduction and Caught Redhanded

  One more tale for my amazing son Skyler Hunt, who is not only responsible for my hero’s totally cool name, but who brainstormed Harri and Maddox’s story with me while practicing lay-ups at the basketball court. You are a blessing, a hero in the making for some young lady WAY down the line. I love you!

  Acknowledgments

  A heaping helping of thanks to my fabulous editor, Julee Schwarzburg, who once more helped me pull it all together with her insightful suggestions and gentle reminder to “show, don’t tell.” What a difference! I am so grateful that God chose for our paths to do more than simply cross.

  Bunches of gratitude to my agent, Beth Jusino, who instantly “got” Harriet and whose personal experience with pink flamingos and Astroturf made me laugh and provided several “aha!” moments that found their way onto the printed page. You’re the best!

  Heartfelt appreciation to senior pastor Dr. Doug Varnado and administrative pastor Mr. Terry Owens of Community Church of Hendersonville for granting me permission to “fudge” on my fictional church’s vision statement. I wasn’t being lazy. Really. There was just no way I could write a statement as beautiful and God honoring as the one composed to capture the spirit of this incredible church, a statement that is more than mere words to its leaders and body of believers.

  COMMUNITY CHURCH OF HENDERSONVILLE VISION STATEMENT

  We seek to know fully the Lord God Almighty, to experience His incredible goodness and grace and be totally amazed that He would choose to live within us. Our desire is to know Him so intimately and trust Him so completely that His will for us becomes the dominant desire of our lives. We seek to use the gifts that God has placed within us to serve others, seeking to meet every physical and spiritual need. Therefore, we welcome everyone so that we may point each to Him and to our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ who alone redeems and transforms us into His image.

  Don’t want to think about anything. Which isn’t all that hard to do when you’ve had one too many drinks. So I do what comes naturally under the circumstances—I feel. And who cares what happens, ’cause it’s not likely I’ll remember anything in the morning. And if I do, it’ll all be fuzzy.

  So feel away, Harri girl! Forget all your troubles. Forget Harley—the pig! Jason—the swine! Blade—the oinker! Oh, and don’t forget to forget your family—church and otherwise. Just feel.

  Closing my eyes, I command my body to feel the beat of the music that pounds from the speakers as I move with…

  Um, let’s call him Contestant Number One.

  He pulls me closer than a good girl should allow. Fortunately for him, I don’t fall into that category. At least, not anymore. This twenty-year-old preacher’s kid—a.k.a. “PK”—is four years beyond that. And counting.

  So tired of counting—

  And I’m tired of this stupid little voice in my head that has been gathering volume ever since I was the recipient of a black eye and found myself homeless three months ago. Fortunately, a drinking buddy took me in. Unfortunately, she’s more of a mess than I, which is how she ended up in an ambulance after I found her on the bathroom floor this morning. The good news is that she’ll be all right—at least until she begs, borrows, or steals enough money to finance her habit. The bad news is that it shook me. Good thing I don’t do drugs.

  What do you call the alcohol swimming through your veins?

  “It’s legal,” I slur, conveniently overlooking that I’m still considered a minor. “Yep, legal.”

  Contestant Number One pulls back. “What?”

  I’d be embarrassed if I weren’t so numb. I smile—at least, I think that’s what I’m doing with my mouth—and drop my forehead to the shoulder of his sweat-soaked T-shirt. Ew! Wish my sense of smell were as numb as the rest of me.

  He chuckles, slides a rough hand down my back, and presses me nearer, though I wouldn’t have thought it possible. He thinks it’s a done deal.

  Doesn’t have to be. You could slip out. Ditch him and his friends. Start fresh again tomorrow, good intentions and all.

  Right. Like I did today, after the ambulance lights disappeared from view?

  Fingers graze my wrist, trail upward, linger over the crown-of-thorns tattoo encircling my upper arm, slide around the back of my neck, then thrust up through my cropped, pink-tinted hair. Getting a grip on it, Contestant Number One pulls my head back, and our nicotine-and alcohol-scented breath mingle as I try to focus on his face.

  What do they say about ugly girls getting progressively better looking with each drink a guy downs? Well, it goes both ways. Sometime during the two hours since I strutted into the biker bar, this guy has gone from one step above Gomer Pyle to only a dozen steps below Antonio Banderas. See, sometimes it’s good to be numb. And I wish I were more so when his mouth descends.

  Oh God, here I go again. And I do mean God as in “the Big Guy,” even though it seems like years since I’ve spoken to or thought about Him without pairing His name with a curse. I don’t want to be here. Don’t want to do this. I want to…to…

  “Oh, my girl! It is you!” squawks a voice whose distinctive Katharine Hepburn warble identifies her despite my smog-laden brain. “What are you doing?!


  Barely escaping a meeting of the mouths, I look over my shoulder into the wrinkled, dark-skinned face of my namesake, Harriet Evans. Though it has been two years since I’ve seen her, she appears the same. As does her companion standing shoulder to shoulder with her—Pam Worth, whose wigs are legendary at my father’s church. Against the backdrop of bikers, beer bottles, and bars that run the length of two walls, the little old women are so out of place that there exists the possibility this is a dream. Meaning, I may not have to start fresh again tomorrow…

  Harriet puts her fists on her hips. “You’re drunk, Harriet Josephine Bisset!”

  She sure seems real, especially those fiery eyes of hers. I shake my head. “What are you doing here?”

  “Not what you’re doing. My car died just down the road. And here I come in to use the phone, and what do I find? You! Actin’ like and lookin’ like”—she waves a hand down me—“a floozy.”

  “Hey! Who are these old biddies?” demands Contestant Number One.

  Biddies? It might’ve been a while since I’ve seen Harriet or Pam, and my brain may be temporarily defunct, but they aren’t going to take that sitting down… er, standing up.

  “Biddies?” Harriet stamps her foot, and Pam follows suit. “You, Cro-Magnon, need a lesson in how to speak to your elders. Now take your filthy hands off that young lady.”

  “Young lady?!” He jerks me closer. “You had it right the first time—floozy.” With that, he puts his mouth to the crook of my neck, and I think I’m going to be sick. Yep. I am. Right across the back of his sweaty T-shirt.

  Though normally I’d be horrified—at least, as horrified as one can be in my state—when he lurches back and spits curses that ought to rain hellfire down on him, I laugh against the back of the hand I wipe across my mouth.

  “Humph!” Harriet takes my arm. “Can’t think of a more fitting punishment.”

  As Pam takes my other arm and they lead me across the bar, I become aware of the attention we’ve attracted. Everyone’s watching—from the bartenders to the biker guys and gals to Contestant Number One’s friends, whose faces no longer reflect drunken merriment.

  This could be bad.

  “Harriet. Pam.” I swallow bile. “You should go.”

  “Not without you.” Harriet tugs me toward the door. “Come on, Harri.”

  Outside, the chill night air hits like a bucket of ice water, and I gasp.

  “Where’s your car?” Harriet asks.

  “I don’t”—burp—“have a car. Friend dropped me off.”

  “A friend, hmm?” She shakes her head. “You got a cell phone?”

  Stomach threatening to erupt again, I pry the phone from my back pocket and thrust it at her. No sooner do our hands clear than it happens again, and I’m on my knees in the dirt-paved parking lot.

  While Pam pats my back, I hear Harriet’s voice but have no idea who she’s talking to. Not that I care.

  Then we’re waiting—for what, I don’t know. And, again, I don’t care. I just want my stomach to stop heaving and my throat to stop burning. I want to feel normal again.

  When was the last time you experienced normal?

  Behind us I hear the whine of rusted hinges as the door bursts open. Then men’s voices, among them Contestant Number One’s. Harriet’s. Then Pam’s. Not a nice exchange, and fear binds me as I focus past Pam to where little Harriet faces a bare-chested Contestant Number One and what would have been Contestant Number Two if not for the interruption on the dance floor.

  “You get back in there!” Harriet jabs a finger toward the bar behind them. “Leave her alone, you hear?”

  “I bought her three drinks.” Contestant Number One snarls. “I deserve something for my money. And my ruined shirt.”

  “A paddlin’s all you deserve.”

  “Oh yeah?” He takes a step toward her. “You wanna try, old biddy?”

  I struggle to my feet. “Harriet! It’s okay. You and Pam get out of here. I’ll—”

  “You’ll do nothin’!” Harriet throws me a look.

  Pam grips my arm and, with her other hand, starts fishing in her purse. “Don’t you worry, Harri.” She holds up a black object and presses a button that causes a bolt of blue to arc and crackle between two metal pins. “We old biddies can take care of ourselves.”

  No, they can’t. They have no idea—

  Tires squeal behind us as they churn up dirt and crunch to a halt. A car door opens and slams, then I hear a voice I haven’t heard in years. “Back off!”

  Heart struggling to find its beat, I peer over my shoulder, but Tyler doesn’t look at me, his eyes on the two men who’ve pushed past Harriet to advance on him.

  “You her boyfriend?” Contestant Number Two asks.

  “Her brother,” Tyler says. “Now if you don’t want trouble, I suggest you go cuddle up with another beer.”

  “Beer ain’t what I had in mind.” Number One leers at me in passing and makes a rude gesture that no woman ought to be subjected to, especially in front of her brother.

  As Pam screeches and swings her purse at his backside, a growl rips from Tyler. A moment later, his fist connects with Number One’s jaw and sends the man stumbling back. Number Two lunges forward, landing a blow to Tyler’s gut as I cry out and strain to break Pam’s hold.

  “Stop it, Harri!” She jerks me back. “Tyler can take him.”

  And he does, though not without sustaining injuries of his own that make me turn my face away.

  “There, now,” Pam says. “It’s over.”

  At least until Number One gets in on it again. And as the two men throw punches, Number Two struggles to his feet.

  “Oh, no you don’t!” Harriet looks to Pam. “Toss me that stun thing of yours.”

  She tosses it, Harriet jabs, and the man jerks and drops.

  A moment later, Number One’s on his back again, and Tyler’s dragging me to his car, with Pam and Harriet following.

  “She’ll be back! You can take ’em outta the bar, but you can’t take the bar outta them. It’s in their blood.”

  As Tyler pushes me into the backseat, we come face to bloody face, and I see the question in his eyes. Will I come back? Is it in my blood?

  I close my eyes, and when Harriet settles in beside me and presses my head into her lap, I begin to blubber. “I want to go home, Harriet.”

  A trembling hand smoothes back my hair. “Of course you do, my girl. ’Course you do.”

  Harri’s Log: • Day of The Coroner’s season finale

  • 29 days until Jelly Belly replenishment

  • 213 days until the completion of Bible #8

  Change is not good. In fact, it’s bad. Especially where First Grace is concerned.

  I stare at the skinny backside of the repairman who just informed me he’s going to miss our church, which has become something of a second home to him. Though called out to repair whatever caused the organ to groan and grunt through last Sunday’s service, he learned that Pastor Paul is forgoing further repairs and simply—simply!—removing it.

  To add insult to injury, not only have drums been set up to the left of the pulpit, but there are ugly black amplifiers from which all manner of cords snake across the carpet—the lifeblood of electric guitars.

  Forcing my clenched hands open, I attempt to gain control of my emotions. But a moment later, my fingernails are once more biting into my palms.

  So Pastor Paul has done it again. In his determination to catapult First Grace into the twenty-first century, despite our being perfectly content to stroll our way into it, he’s knocked out another wall in the house my father built.

  I look back at the organ, beneath which the repairman hunkers, and slide my gaze over the beautiful instrument. For the past thirty years, it has provided all the instrumental accompaniment First Grace ever needed. Well, there is the piano, but prior to Pastor Paul’s arrival, it merely supplemented the organ. Now it has come into its own as we transition to a more “contemporary” form
of service.

  The sharp crack of bone on wood returns my attention to the repairman. Clutching his head, he seats himself on his rear.

  I rush forward. “Are you all right?”

  He swears and rocks back and forth. “That hurt!”

  I freeze. He took our Lord’s name in vain. Right here. In the sanctuary. Unless he was actually crying out to the Lord for help—

  Oh, Harri! Find out if he’s all right, for goodness’ sake! “You okay, Horace?”

  “I’m gonna have a lump the size of a cheekful of chewin’ tobacco.”

  Nice imagery. “Can I get you some ice?”

  “I’ll be all right.” He lowers his hands. “Sorry about that ‘Jesus’ thing. It just sort of popped out.”

  Thing?

  “Well, if I’m gonna have this thing out of here before Sunday, I’d better get back to work.”

  Thing again? First Jesus’s name, now our beloved organ. Mere “things”? Calm down. Remember whose daughter you are…in whose presence you stand. I look up at the stained-glass window above the baptistery. Soaring to the ceiling, it depicts Jesus with wide open arms. Remember what He would have you do.

  But surely He wouldn’t want me to sit by as Pastor Paul shifts the focus from God to growing the size of the congregation. Yes, I know all about reaching the unsaved. But what about the saved—the older folks who have drifted away this past year? The ones who have yet to drift away but will likely do so once the organ pulls a no-show?

  I pivot and march down the aisle between the rows of empty pews and, in the gathering area outside the sanctuary, nearly barrel into R.T., head of maintenance.

  Screwdriver in hand, he jumps out of my way.

  “Sorry, R.T.”

  “Uh-oh,” he drawls.

  I snap my head around.

  His here-she-goes-again expression dissolves, and he shakes his head. “Not me.” Shake, shake, shake. “I had nothin’ to do with them drums and wires.”

  Perhaps not, but he has to be thrilled. The headphones around his neck often leak horrendous music. “Hmm.” I resume my trek to the offices.

 
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