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Book Jacket

Trade Paperback
400 pages
Nov 2007
Multnomah Books

Splitting Harriet

by Tamara Leigh

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt

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, 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

This could be bad.

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

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

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.”


1. Harri was a rebellious preacher’s kid who crossed over to the “prodigal” side. What are your experiences with PKs? Do you think expectations are too high for them?

2. Splitting Harriet is set during a time of tremendous change at First Grace Church–change that makes Harri and some of the older members feel threatened. What changes have you experienced in your church that made you feel threatened or uncomfortable?

3. What are your feelings about the trend toward contemporary forms of worship? Does it keep members engaged and present a greater opportunity to reach the unsaved? Or does it shift the focus away from God and toward entertainment?

4. Fearful of being hurt as she was as a teenager, Harri avoids meaningful friendships with women her own age. How are your relationships with women affected by your early experiences?

5. Harri tends to “play it safe.” When have you “played it safe”? How do you think your life would be different had you taken a risk instead?

6. Harri reads the Bible daily, translation after translation. However, her actions and fears contradict the depth of her knowledge of God’s Word. What do you do to guard against a “surface” reading of the Bible? What helps you to internalize and apply Scripture to your life?

7. Though attracted to Maddox, Harri is put off by his appearance for fear he will be a
bad influence. Do you tend to stereotype people? Have you ever been stereotyped?

8. At the height of Harri’s rebellion, her brother suffered fallout from association when his girlfriend broke off their engagement. Have you ever been found guilty by association? How did it affect you?

9. Harri has a difficult time accepting the fullness of God’s forgiveness. What struggles have you faced in accepting God’s forgiveness?

10. Though Harri longs for the safe, predictable future she envisions once she buys the café, she sacrifices her dream for her friends. What dreams have you had to sacrifice? Any regrets?