Friday, July 9, 2010

The HASTIE GIRLS

The Hastie Girls is a fictional novel set within a picturesque village, among the hills of Northern England in the late 1950's. This tale of two sisters begins in a time and place of innocence, where life was simple and choices seemingly clear. Between the pages, an important message is weaved.

Belle Hastie's wish is to seek adventure, become a doctor, and escape her confining Northumbrian village. Emily Hastie's wishes are outwardly the opposite; to remain in Wethervale, and lead a secure life raising a family. They soon learn that no matter what choices one makes, nothing is ever ideal, or even what life seems on the surface.

Throughout this journey, their eyes are opened to the challenges of being human, but they also discover a deeper meaning of love and joy.

Read the First 2 Chapters

Chapter 1


London, June 1961

It was only a weekend trip home and it had taken Belle Hastie over an hour to pack. She’d picked out all possible clothing ensembles for different weather forecasts. If worst came to worst, shopping would be on the menu—and that wasn’t such a bad thought.
Belle picked up the photo which stood next to her bed. It was taken in the summer of 1958, at home in Eden House, when life was full of potential. But this trip home wasn’t because it was all bliss back there, her mother was worried about Emily.
No one would’ve ever thought there’d be a day when Belle would have to agonize about her angelic twin Emily—the diplomat in any tempest. Of course, everything had changed a year ago. Nothing surprised Belle anymore; she just wanted a renewed relationship with her sister, like it used to be.
This weekend was Belle’s chance; Emily’s fiendish husband was out of town. Time together—it had been too long—and then Emily would remember who she was.
The pink material caressed Belle’s cheek. She folded the blouse with reverence; Emily’d be pleased with it. Clothes buoyed Belle’s mood but Emily required more than a pretty pink blouse—she needed a new life.
The happy photo of Belle and her twin, taken that summer before it all began, only pronounced the current life changes as dire. Then there was her sister’s wedding photo . . . the menace. She shoved it in the drawer. Somehow she’d get the good days back. Perhaps that’s why she hadn’t gone home more since their marriage—she detested him. He’d taken all that was pure and manipulated it to his advantage. Of course Belle’s loyal sister would never go against what God had joined together, but if only she’d realize that God would never condone a pact between an angel and a devil. Belle had to stop—she was a mad woman. But the mere thought of this beast and her sister . . .
Ironic that Belle’s immediate solution lay in the same drawer with the framed threat. She yanked it open and wolfed down the chocolate bar.
Belle placed her identical red shirt next to Emily’s pink one with a little less care. Her boyfriend had claimed that red brought out her personality and accentuated her darker features. More like her wild appearance—at least today. Her auburn hair curled more with each year. She was only twenty— a miracle if a brush would venture through it at forty.
The bread in the kitchen was dry, the last of the loaf. Her chocolate would suffice for breakfast this morning. Belle shut the case and kicked her books under the bed. They’d be forgotten over the weekend. This time was for her sister. Belle locked the front door and looked ahead.
Her feet echoed along the sidewalk. The bag lady was in the way—didn’t want to trip on her.
“Give us some change, Miss.”
Belle threw her a coin. Everyone needed to be loved. Maybe she should give Emily’s husband a chance, but better yet, maybe she should take hold of her emotions. People could change, that’s what all those Sunday school lessons had preached.
The train whistled seconds before it rounded the bend and came into view. Belle’s hair swayed behind her and the oil-scented breeze was short-lived. She unclenched her hands and picked up her suitcase. Funny she’d never noticed that habit till she saw photos of herself—her hands were always little balls.
Her eyes darted to the back of the train where there were numerous available spots. She’d doze in the rear with her cardigan as a suitable pillow.
Belle closed her eyes and images of her sister filled her mind. She begged her dreams to produce a contented Emily but they were all the same, just different scenarios. Emily was trapped in a sinking boat and Belle had to save her, but she didn’t know how to swim. Emily was sick with a dreaded disease, but Belle knew no cure.
The train halted, she was halfway to her childhood home in the northern hills. Please be all right, Emily.
Belle bent down, grabbed a novel out of her bag, and wiped her cheeks. The train had attracted a few more passengers, but no one could see her at this angle—a blubbering fool. She placed the book on her lap and found her own hands a more substantial muse for the moment.



Chapter 2


Wethervale, Northumberland June 1961

Emily tied her blonde hair back. She leaned closer to the mirror. So maybe she did have dark shadows under her eyes. Perhaps her Swiss-ancestral features had become prominent as of late but it was all part of marriage. Her husband would deem these as signs of a good wife. She worked hard and it showed.
She splashed the soapy water on her face. The lilac-scented suds were the only remnant of her past. The tap groaned. Emily stood still, she waited. Today would be different, Belle would be across the table from her in a few short hours. Life had always been perfect with Belle.
The churn from deep within began—if she could just control this. She reminded herself that today would be an escape, but nothing seemed to work anymore. Her knees hit the bathroom checkered tiles abruptly.
Emily’s blue eyes darted around the bathroom. Distractions—please anything. But the tumultuous orb rose and the wretched convulsions from the pit of her stomach began.
Her eyelids closed, imagination may work. She and Belle ran through the fields and the Northumbrian wind across the moors awakened the lifeless heather. The green hills would go on for miles, but the rhythmic motion of something so simple broke up the eternal landscape. The vastness had sometimes overwhelmed her as a child, yet something uncomplicated within reach such as the heather had always calmed her, but not today.
The gurgle of the toilet resonated behind her and Emily shut the bathroom door. The kitchen still held the aroma of sausage and scrambled eggs. What a waste of a good meal—all flushed away now. She touched the kitchen table, it was wet. Sweet mother, she’d done more than stop by and cook a hearty breakfast. Time with Elizabeth Hastie wasn’t the usual but one day things would be better, Emily’s husband wouldn’t demand so much.
Emily reached for a drying plate, it slipped. Shattered porcelain chips spread across the floor. She grabbed a piece, it sliced her finger, and blood trickled down. He just doesn’t realize, it was his upbringing.
The phone rang and she jumped. She wrapped a tissue around her finger. “Hello,” Emily said.
“Hello, darling.”
“This is a surprise, I thought you’d call Monday night.”
“A pleasant surprise I hope,” her husband said.
“Of course.”
“Mum’s feeling better so I’ll be home sooner.”
Emily fell into the chair next to the phone. She couldn’t spend the day at Eden House with her family if an immaculate home and meal were required, probably by this afternoon.
“I’ll have tea ready by five then,” Emily said.
“That soon and Mum would end my life, but I’ll head back Tuesday instead of Friday.”
Emily stood and rearranged the flowers on the phone table. “I’ll look forward to it.” The entire weekend uninterrupted . . .
“I assume you’ll have a quiet weekend then.”
Here it was. “Yes just the usual.” A white lie wasn’t a sin and Belle’s company was the usual, at least a few years ago. She wouldn’t clutter his mind with her details, he had so much to think about, and besides all would be in its proper place when he returned.


Emily shook her foot, the pebbles rolled out of her sandals. She breathed in, the air was light, but by the end of summer the dense humidity would arrive. This outing was an unusual treat; Eden House had been the farthest she’d gone in the last year, and even that wasn’t so often anymore.
Emily passed Mrs. McNeal’s boutique, she waved. The Wethervale church, so stoic with its gray stone and growing ivy, chimed its bells. This village had been paradise to her as a child and now would be her home forever. Observers may claim that the price of familiarity within the town walls had been too dear, but she just needed to control her anxiety when it came to events that she could’ve never foreseen.
Her dainty watch agreed with the church’s chime, a solid guarantee that she was on schedule. Belle should be well on her way from London by now.
The bus to Carlisle, Cumberland was full for a summer morning. She stepped on, tucked her hair behind her ear, and all eyes watched her. Emily looked down.
Belle had suggested they meet in Carlisle first for lunch. After all, the Edwardian Hotel boasted the finest food in all of Cumberland and its surrounding areas.
The countryside swept past. The stone fences around the individual farms patterned the lush hills. Emily’s chest rose up and down calmly. The bus ride had worked better than the imaginary heather. It wasn’t much longer until she’d see Belle.
All five of the other passengers had exited in the town center of Carlisle, she was the last one. The bus halted. She’d been stopped in the middle of nowhere, or at least it appeared that way. To her left was the country lane with a farmhouse set back from the road and to her right, a forest of green with an almost undetectable pathway to the Edwardian Hotel. Farther up was a more prominent driveway which erased the sentiment of abandonment . . . but this way was far prettier. Emily walked through the grove of trees.
The protected walk was only five minutes, and then the grandiosity of what was hidden behind the greenery appeared. The Edwardian Hotel seemed brighter this time—not a surprise since it was evening over a year ago when she was here last. She bent and smelled the flowers. They were bulbs that spring when her husband brought her to the restaurant to propose.
“Emily.” Belle had arisen from a hidden bench. “It’s so good to see you.”
Emily breathed in her sister’s auburn hair. She lost her voice for a moment.
“We’ll have a splendid time this weekend,” Belle said.
Emily’s hand squeezed Belle’s. “I can’t believe you’re here—it seems so long.” Emily held her throat, clearing her voice.
“I know,” Belle said.
The sisters walked the steps together and entered the hotel. A French woman showed them to their seat.
“She certainly likes to wiggle her bottom,” Belle said. “A bit old to move that thing around so much.”
Emily giggled. “Stop, Belle . . . you always do this to me.”
“That’s what sisters are for.”
Emily leaned over to Belle. “This is the same woman that waited on us when I was proposed to. She helped him pull the whole engagement surprise together.”
Belle’s hazel eyes were deeper now, more mature than when they were children. “Must’ve been romantic.”
“It was, and a year now—hard to believe,” Emily said. Her modern sister, living the single life in London, now finally sat across the table from her again.
The waitress reappeared and handed them menus. “You look familiar.” Her bright red lips parted and exposed her yellow teeth that matched her fake hair color.
Emily sat tall. “Yes I was proposed to, at this very spot, just over a year ago.”
“Of course. It’s hard to forget such a beautiful face.” She smiled again, her age betrayed by deep creases on her forehead. “It’s best that it didn’t work out anyhow . . . I mean, I remember him very well, only because he comes in every week.” She placed the buns and butter on the table as she continued. “This new woman that he’s with, she doesn’t hold a candle to you, dear. You were far too pretty for him anyhow.”
Emily wouldn’t look at Belle. “No, that’s not right.” Her mind was heavy, she had to focus on a clear thought: the heather again, with its swish of hope. Emily’s hand went to her blonde hair and tucked it out of the way.
The French woman was silent and still.
“My sister’s been married for a year, you’ve confused him with someone else,” Belle said.
The waitress gasped and stood motionless for a moment—just leave woman—and then finally she wiggled her bottom away.
“Confused French woman.” Emily picked up the menu. “Mummy can’t wait to see you, Belle.”
Belle said nothing.
Emily put the menu down and picked up the one in front of her sister. “Take a look at the delicious lunches . . .” Maybe the sun was in Belle’s eyes. “I’ll have the waitress shut the curtains—”
“So you’re not going to acknowledge what that woman said.” Belle’s voice was strangled.
“You even said she was wrong. I think I’ll have salad.”
“But he comes to Carlisle once a week—Tuesdays, when you call me.” Belle’s voice had grown more forceful.
“Not to eat but to work. This conversation is ridiculous.”
Belle stared, then picked up her menu and slumped back. “Just one word and I’ll obliterate him out of your life.”
“Leave it alone.”
Her sister grew silent again and then responded. “I have to go to the ladies room, be back in a minute.” Belle disappeared and reappeared. She smiled and ordered a ham sandwich when the waitress came by.
“I’ll have salad,” Emily said.
When the waitress put the ham sandwich in front of Belle, she said, “You two must be twins, you’d be identical if you had the same hair color.”
“Yes we are,” Belle said.
The woman leaned closer, her breath was stale. Emily tilted her head to the side—to get some space.
“This man comes in on Tuesdays around five.” The waitress put the salad on the table and then turned and left.
The china plate made such a bang when it was placed in front of her. Emily’s blue eyes lifted.
Belle’s lips were pursed but her hazel eyes were sad.
“It’s just a mix-up.” Emily dove into her salad knowing it would exit the same way it went in.

Reviews

Satisfying, dramatic, poignant, and moving :

I took this book with me everywhere I went. I could not wait to see what would happen next in the dramatic lives of these sisters. Fox's descriptive writing takes you to another place and time. A complete escape but with a resounding familiarity as far as the coming of age themes anyone can relate to. I would really like to see her do a sequel to this or possibly even go farther back to the early 1900's to glimpse the lives and adventures of their parents. I think I have found a new favorite author who has mastered the craft of a gripping drama with the right touch of humor and beautiful pastoral descriptions while keeping it clean compared to the path some authors take to lessen and distract from the storyline with over-done profanity, violence etc. -- M. Branigan Sutton

Love the story of two loyal sisters:

I couldn't put down the book, once I started it. I was immediately drawn to the different sisters. Each was so fun to read and follow their individual responses and their different lives. The loyalty of each sister made me want to buy a copy and send to my own sister. These two girls support each other through thick and thin. I loved the spunk of Belle. I can easily picture her in my head. Emily was so engaging that I found myself thinking...these sisters can accomplish anything. Please tell me you have more of their stories available. -- Denice Jones, Provo, Utah

Great debut novel:

What a good read! The relationship between the two sisters is at the center of this novel, set in England in the 1950's. It's the bond between them that keeps the story moving, as each of them grows up and learns more about the world outside of their small town, and learning more about themselves in the process. I'm anxious to read the rest of the story, as I'm sure we can look forward to a "part two" novel soon! -- D. Smith, Phoenix, Arizona

Great story:

This was a very wonderful story about two sisters and the different paths they take. I thoroughly enjoyed it: enough to skip an outing to the park with friends and their kids! I hope there's a sequel coming along, because I need to know "the rest of the story"... I'm a self-confessed Anglophile, and this novel was fun to read on that account alone. As with all time-piece books, I wonder what made Fox choose the late 50s - maybe it's familiar? There were a few times I had to remind myself it wasn't set in present-day. But the details about clothing choices and cars were great and set the mood for the timeline. I enjoyed it! -- Kameron Bybee

Captivating and authentic:

Jaycee has written an authentic book about life in the fifties in the north of England. It is a captivating and inspiring novel which is refreshing to read in this day and age. The story resonated with me as I grew up in the north of England in the forties and fifties. It was hard to put the book down and I look forward to the sequel. -- M. Dodd, N. S., Canada