An exclusive look into Kristy Woodson Harveys newest novel, Slightly South of Simple

Scott Taylor—for the North State Journal
Kristy Woodson Harvey sits in her living room in Beaufort where she does much of her writing on July 15. (Scott Taylor for the North State Journal)

Salisbury native and Southern fiction author Kristy Woodson Harvey brings us an exclusive deleted scene from her newest book, “Slightly South of Simple.” The first in an all-new series, “Slightly South of Simple,” journals the lives of three sisters and their mother in the small Southern town of Peachtree Bluff. This must-read in your summer book collection introduces you to Ansley and her three daughters — Caroline, Sloane and Emerson.

Take a sneak peek from the novel that uncovers secrets from the past, reshapes the meaning of family, and reminds you there is plenty of love to go around.

Ansley: Thin Air

My grandmother was always sitting on the porch waiting for us when we arrived in Peachtree Bluff. It didn’t matter if it was the dead of winter or the dead of night. She was going to be there, ready with open arms, the absolute second we arrived. I never gave much thought to it, but looking back, it makes me feel incredibly loved.

That was trickier to do with my girls because the children never tell me anything. They just show up. So, as much as I wanted to be there the moment Sloane and my grandsons arrived, I decided to get some work done for a couple of hours before they (potentially) got into town.

Two down, one to go, I thought as I was walking to the store that morning. After their knock-down, drag-out the day before, Emerson and Caroline seemed to have made up, thank goodness. There is truth in saying that, once your adult kids come home, they become children once again. Emerson and Caroline were certainly arguing like it. And leaving me to pick up their dirty socks.

They stayed up until all hours of the night, Caroline munching the cookies that Vivi and I had made earlier and Emerson sipping herbal tea.

I would let this lack of food go for one more week, until filming began. But believe you me, I would be on that set soon, and I would ask that director if he really told her to be this thin for this role. On the one hand, it scared me. On the other, I was impressed by her will power. I never could have stayed on a cleanse for that long or maintained that little body weight. Impossible. But I guess if you want something badly enough you figure out a way.

Jack crossed my mind, of course. But, in all honesty, I wasn’t completely confident that he wanted anything more from me than to decorate his boat. The thought that these feelings I had harbored for all these years were one sided horrified me. And made me realize that I needed to reel it in a little bit.

Besides, this was far from convenient timing. Caroline, Emerson and Vivi were already at my house and not only was a new baby on the way but Sloane was also. Every time I remembered that, I relaxed. So, yes, Sloane would bring a three-year-old and a one-year-old. But she would also bring that air of calm, that peacemaking, soothing personality that seemed to balance out my other girls. She was just so normal. In the best possible way.

I slid my key into the lock on the front door of the store, the delicious smell of the L’Objet candles wafting by. They looked as beautiful as they smelled.

I walked immediately to the back of the store, happy butterflies rumbling in my stomach. Giant boxes were stacked all the way across the back wall, meaning I had some serious goodies to go through. But the bell tinkled before I could. Emily and Sandra, my two best girlfriends, walked through the door.

“Hey, Ans,” Sandra said.

Her short, dark hair was pulled back from her face and she and Emily were both wearing shorts, t-shirts and walking shoes. Emily didn’t work and Sandra’s job was very flexible — as most “jobs” around Peachtree Bluff were, mine included.

“We were going to see if you wanted to go for a walk,” Emily said. She stopped to pick up a small tray I had on display. “I love this,” she said. “Can we put this in the new house?”

I was walking around the store, moving a stack of cocktail napkins an inch here, wiping a dust speck off of a champagne flute there. “Emily, sweetheart. I don’t know how to say this, but if you’ll recall, the purpose of this move is to downsize. You can’t move from 5,000 square feet to 2,200 and still keep all of your stuff and try to add more. That isn’t going to work.”She put her hands on her hips. “I told you I’d get rid of the wingbacks, okay?”

I loved decorating for my friends, but sometimes it could be a little tricky. Emily and her husband Greg had bought this beautiful historic home right on the water and were about to put their larger house on the market, but bless her heart, the woman could not part with her things. It took me nearly a week to convince her to get rid of these hideous floral wingback chairs that she had complained about how much she hated since probably 1991.”Do you have any idea how much that Brunschwig & Fils fabric cost me?” Emily had asked me for the millionth time the day we were scouring her house, tagging the things we knew we wanted to donate.

“Yeah, Em. I do. But it was twenty-five years ago. Styles change.”

She shook her head. “Not really. I hated them almost as much twenty-five years ago as I do now.”

This is what I have to deal with.

The box of knickknacks from her mother-in-law had at least been an easy thing to convince her to part with. She kept the box in the attic and, three times a year when her mother-in-law came to visit, put them out. “Also,” she had whispered, “if we could have a small accident that, sadly, ruins dear Uncle Edward’s portrait I would be grateful.”

I had shuddered. Poor Uncle Edward had this unfortunate lazy eye that followed you around the room. But Uncle Edward had a penchant for portraits and most of the family had at least one likeness. They dutifully hung them because, in addition to his love of art, Uncle Edward loved money and his family and since he was childless, (if you saw the portrait, you’d understand why) had left quite the trust for his nieces and nephews.

I had realized that this was my moment. “I will off Uncle Edward if you get rid of Molly’s Madame Alexander dolls.”She had gasped. “Ansley, I couldn’t possibly. They are treasures.”

“Em, there are forty-two of them. Only six have all four limbs and both eyes. I think ‘treasures’ is an overstatement.”

Plus, they were creepy. Like Uncle Edward, they watched me as I walked around the room. It was no wonder poor Molly had night terrors.

“I’ll let you keep two,” I said.

“Two?” she whined.

“Two,” I repeated firmly. I had planted my feet and gestured to the grand piano that Emily insisted I fit into this house where there was absolutely no room. “And, if you can play chopsticks right now, I’ll figure out how to use the piano. If you can’t, I get to buy that living room furniture I showed you.”

Emily walked confidently to the piano and sat down on the bench. For a minute, I was nervous. Maybe I was wrong; maybe Emily could play this old thing. She began to play and sing, “Here we go, up a road, to a birth-day par-ty,” and we both burst out laughing.

I sat down beside her on the bench and said, “It’s going to be okay, you know. You’re going to feel so clean and fresh and sparse in this new place you won’t miss anything.”

That day in the store, Sandra chimed in and said, “Ansley, Emily is trying to bribe me to sneak stuff to a rental storage and not tell you.”

“Oh you’ll never get that by me,” I said.