Celebrating Christmas with My Characters
The characters from my romantic suspense novel, “A Stone’s Throw” (Limitless Publishing, November 2015) decide to hold a Christmas party to thank their readers. Alicia Fairmont, the main character, a widowed librarian, is hosting the event along with her handsome yet mysterious lover, John McKinney, the publisher of the Cobble Cove Courier newspaper. Co-hosts include Mac, John’s 80-year old father; Dora Kantor, the Cobble Cove Innkeeper; and Sheila Whitehead, the library director. Guests include Pamela Morgan, Alicia’s sister-in-law; Abigail (Gilly) Nostran, Alicia’s best friend; Casey, the diner owner, Edith and Rose Carver the town’s “cousins;” and Detectives Michael Faraday and Ron Ramsay. Sneaky, the Siamese library cat; and Fido, John and Mac’s old golden retriever, are also invited.
The hosts have brought the main dishes including a few excerpts for appetizers. The guests have prepared desserts. Sneaky and Fido have untrimmed the tree and assisted with taking down the decorations that Edith and Rose so painstakingly set up.
The festivities start with a toast around the table in the Cobble Cove library’s reading room with the wine that Pamela supplied. Alicia proposes a toast to the author, Debbie De Louise, for bringing her and the other characters to life. Everyone except Sneaky and Fido raise their glasses. Alicia hasn’t forgotten the animals. Sneaky has cream in his bowl; Fido chilled water in his.
Although Sneaky and Fido took down most of the ornaments on the tree and pulled off the ribbon and tags of the gifts underneath, Alicia knows to whom each one belongs. Sneaky plays with a golden ornament ball, rolling it around the floor, while Fido chases his tail around the tree sniffing all the presents for a hint of what they contain.
“When shall we open the gifts?” Mac asks, like an eager young boy, although he’s in his eighth decade.
“Be patient, dad,” John says. “It's not Christmas yet, so we won’t all be exchanging for another few weeks. Those presents are from Debbie to her main characters.”
“Debbie is so thoughtful,” Dora says. “I should invite her to breakfast at the inn one day. I’ll make her some of my special muffins.”
“I've been thinking of inviting her to lunch at dad’s place to sample our special family recipe for PB&J sandwiches like I did Alicia early in our acquaintance,” John adds.
“Great idea, son. I’ll break out some of my canned preserves for her, too.”
“What about dinner at the diner?” Casey suggests. “I think Debbie would enjoy my juicy cheeseburgers and fries even though she’s dieting. It would be good for her to take a break to celebrate the release of our book.”
“Dessert would be nice, too,” Gilly interjects. “I know she won't be able to resist the chocolate chip cookies I bake for my three sons’ Boy Scout troop.”
“I’ll serve her drinks,” Pamela offers. “The bar in my home is well stocked. Afterwards, we can chat upstairs in my private home library where I know she’d be comfortable since she is a librarian herself.”
Edith and Rose, always willing to volunteer for events, speak up. “I can bake her a cake,” Rose the younger and quieter sister whispers. Edith, the older sister, says, “I can’t cook her anything, but I could crochet her a warm holiday sweater.”
“I make a nice crockpot stew,” Sheila exclaims.
“If Debbie’s interested, I wouldn't mind asking my wife to invite her to Christmas dinner,” Faraday announces. “We have turkey, and I do an excellent job carving it.”
Ramsay huffs. “I’ll throw in some leftover donuts from the station as long as I can have some. What about you, Alicia?”
She thinks a moment. “The best gift we can give Debbie is to help her sell our book by being great characters, and there's a rumor she’s working on a sequel to “A Stone's Throw.” We can all help her write it.”
“Even Sneaky and Fido can help,” John adds. “People love to read about pets and their silly antics.” At his words, the dog and cat come to opposite sides of the table to beg for the food heaped in the center on top of the Santa Claus patterned tablecloth Gilly had brought up with her from Long Island. The velvet table runner and crystal candle holders were an odd match, but Pamela insisted they added a rich festiveness to their dining. John had picked up the Poinsettia arrangements from the Cobble Cove florist that graced the end of the table. It was also his doing that a mistletoe hung from the reading room’s alcove.
“I think we should eat,” Ramsay remarks, “but make sure you keep those animals away from the table.”
Alicia keeps her mouth shut from the reply she is tempted to make to the stout police officer.
Faraday, aware that his partner has committed another one of the social blunders he’s notorious for, mutters, “Calm down, Ron. Before we eat, we should say Grace and then Alicia has some excerpt appetizers for us. I think you and I are in one of them.”
“Thank you, Detective Faraday” John says. “I'll begin with the meal prayer and then Alicia can read the excerpts.”
There was silence around the table as John said Grace and then Alicia stand up, a few typed sheets of paper in her hands that Debbie has provided.
Alicia brushes back her long chestnut hair. She’s wearing the wine-colored pant suit John generously gifted to her on Long Island after a tragedy that nearly left her destitute brought her back there.
“This first excerpt that Debbie would like me to share with you all is when I first came to Cobble Cove and John took me to the library where I met Mac.” She smiles in the old man’s direction.
Cobble Cove Library was small. It may have once been a house. Brick, like many of the town’s buildings, it had a porch similar to Dora’s inn with flower baskets hanging from its eaves. Out front, there was a statue of a boy and girl holding a book. The sign next to the statue read, “Cobble Cove Library,” along with a graphic of an open book lying on a bed of cobblestones and, etched underneath, “Est. 1915.” The sliding glass front doors seemed out of place. It looked as if they were recently added. Alicia walked through the turnstile in front of John, who urged her inside first. She guessed the man at the circulation desk was John’s father. The older man’s eyes, the same color as his son’s, lit up when he saw them. “Hey, there, young man,” he said, “I see you’ve brought us a pretty visitor.”
Alicia had never been one to blush, but she felt heat rise to her face and imagined it might be reddening.
“I sure did,” John said, walking over to the desk. “Dad, this is Alicia Fairmont. She’s a librarian from Long Island. Alicia, this is my father, John, Senior. You can call him Mac. Everyone does.”
“Where’s our excerpt?” Ramsay demands after Alicia finishes reading.
“Stop that, Ron,” Faraday warns his partner. “She’ll get to it. Have some patience, please.”
Alicia turns to the next page. “This part I especially like, and I think Sneaky will, too.”
The Siamese, hearing his name, comes to her and circles her legs purring. She bends down and pets his head as she reads the passage:
When she entered the storage room, she didn’t see Sneaky, although she thought he might’ve headed there to use his litter box. Cats can be quiet and liked to sleep in the strangest spots, so he could be there in some corner. Mac’s jacket was still draped across the chair by the desk. She laughed recalling the story about what Sneaky had once done to it out of spite, so typical of an angered cat. She sat in the chair and perused the stack of books on the desk. A few were from James Patterson’s “Private” series. She didn’t read too many series and had only read a few of Patterson’s standalone titles. As she was about to choose a book from the pile, she heard scratching in the corner. She jumped. Hopefully, that was Sneaky and not a mouse he hadn’t caught, for this place probably attracted them. She walked cautiously to the corner where she’d heard the noise. It wasn’t coming from the litter box under the window but from the opposite side.
Since the one bulb in the room was dim, she could hardly see in the dark recesses of the room. She wished she had a flashlight. As she approached the area where she heard the noise, she saw a bunch of boxes. She was relieved to see Sneaky scratching the side of one, cardboard pieces scattered at his feet. “Oh, Sneaky,” she said. “You scared me, but you’re only using a box for a scratching post.” The cat, caught in the act, stopped in mid-scratch and scampered away through his cat flap. Alicia made a note to speak to John about helping her find a real scratching post for Sneaky, but before she left the room, she went over to the boxes. She figured they contained more books, but when she looked inside the one Sneaky had been scratching, she saw a few papers bundled together with rope. Newspapers? They weren’t that thick. She realized as she picked up the first bundle, they were a stack of letters. She felt uneasy snooping through them and was about to toss them next to the other two stacks in the box when she caught the name on the top envelope, Miss Carol Parsons. Her heart thudded in tempo with the rain. Were these the letters Mac wrote to Peter’s mother all those years ago? If so, how had Mac gotten them back?
I think Fido wants an excerpt he’s in now, too,” John points out as the dog begins to wag his tail.
“I have one right here,” Alicia comments returning to her reading. “This is actually a very sweet scene.”
Alicia grabbed her robe and slipped into it. Still sleepy and remembering the dream, she joined Sheila downstairs. John wasn’t with her, but she saw him through the library windows. He was on a snow blower, clearing the walk. Fido ran next to him, snow hitting his furry face. Alicia realized the noise of the blower was what she’d heard in her dream.
“What time is it?” she asked Sheila, who was also in her robe.
Although the sun wasn’t fully up, the snow made the sky appear lighter by its reflection.
“Six a.m. I have a feeling John didn’t sleep well. I’m glad he’s clearing our walk. I’m putting on some coffee for us. I’m sure he’ll appreciate a cup after he finishes.”
It wasn’t long before John rapped on the door. Sheila opened it, and John and Fido bounded in, both shedding snow over the library entryway.
“Look at you two,” Sheila exclaimed. “You’d better mop up this floor later, John. You know animals aren’t allowed in the library.” She was half smiling as she admonished him.
“What about Sneaky?” John asked.
“That’s different. He’s a library cat.”
“Well, maybe you should get a library dog too. Fido would make a good watch dog. You should consider it.”
Hearing his name and sensing an animal intruder, Sneaky appeared out of nowhere, arching his spine and hissing at the dog. Fido backed away in mock terror.
“Some watchdog, afraid of a cat.” Sheila laughed.
John turned to Fido. “It’s okay, boy, that’s only a kitty.” Sneaky scooted away, and Fido relaxed at John’s side.
“Enough with those animals,” Ramsay exclaims when Alicia pauses, “Where is my excerpt?”
“Coming right up,” she smiles. “This is the scene of our first introduction and how polite you were to us.”
“Detective Faraday and Detective Ramsay will be with you soon,” the officer told them on his way out.
Alicia realized she was holding her breath and clenching her hands in her lap.
“Try to relax,” John said, sensing her mood, “I know it’s hard, but being nervous won’t help anything.”
Alicia nodded. “Thanks for staying. You didn’t have to.”
“Yes, I did. I need to give you a character reference.” He smiled and she felt a little calmer.
She was hoping they wouldn’t have to wait long, so was glad when the two officers strode into the room. Both wore badges, so she could tell them apart. But even if they weren’t identified, she could see by their expressions they were indeed playing good cop/bad cop. Faraday, taller than John, smiled as he came in the room and extended his hand to her and then John. “Detective Faraday, glad to meet you, and thanks for coming down.”
Ramsay, who stood behind Faraday, was a shorter, stockier man. His expression, behind thick eyebrows, was wary and calculating. He didn’t shake hands with them but simply nodded when Faraday introduced him as his partner, Detective Ramsay.
John thanked them. “Nice to meet you, Detectives.” Alicia stayed silent.
Faraday remained standing next to John while Ramsay sat at the desk across from Alicia. This made her uncomfortable. The man’s dark, squinty eyes seemed to follow her and ignore John.
Alicia places the excerpts down after reading the last one. Everyone cheers her renditions except Ramsay who stands up, his face flushed with anger. “Debbie has some nerve to portray me that way. This is some party. I’m leaving, and I didn’t even get to eat.”
“Wait a minute, Detective Ramsay,” Casey declares, “at least you got an excerpt. I own the only diner in town, and Debbie didn’t even bother writing one for me.”
“What about us?” Edith and Rose exclaim, “We play important roles in the book as church and social committee members of the town.”
“Don’t complain,” Gilly adds, “I’m Alicia’s best friend, and there isn’t even an excerpt for me.”
“If anyone should’ve had an excerpt it should’ve been me,” Sheila says. “I’m the library director. I offered Alicia the job that changed her life.”
“Yes, but, as I recall, you were also a suspect in the mystery,” Pamela contends. “I think I’m the most interesting character, at least the richest.”
John, seeing a fight in the making, tries to control the group. “Listen, everyone, you all play important roles in “A Stone’s Throw.” Not all the characters were invited, so you should all consider yourselves special. I propose that before we eat, we open Debbie’s gifts. Perhaps they will help us regain the Christmas spirit.”
“I think that’s a good idea,” Alicia says. “I will hand out the gifts.”
She starts with Sheila. Debbie’s gift to her is wrapped in Christmas paper featuring the library logo of a book lying on a bed of cobblestones. Inside the box, Sheila finds a colorful variety of headbands of different materials – silks, cottons, leathers. “Oh, my,” Sheila says slipping a shimmery silver one on to tame her red locks. “These are lovely, and perfect for everything from holiday entertaining to casual jaunts around town.”
Next, Alicia brings a box over to Gilly. Her friend eagerly unwraps the Santa Claus paper to find a dozen bodice ripper romance novels. She smiles. “Debbie knew just what I wanted in my bed on these cold winter nights. Gotta keep these away from the boys, though.”
Pamela’s gift was long and thin. Its wrapping was pure white with glittery golden stars. “Debbie really shouldn’t have,” she says, “I have everything I need.” But when she opens the gift, she is astonished. “It’s a painting of my horse, Star. How beautiful. Debbie has combined my two loves into a perfect gift.”
“Debbie also has a present for each of your daughters,” Alicia adds handing Pamela two small gifts.
“How thoughtful,” Pamela says taking them. “The girls are coming home from Europe for New Years, so I will give these to them then.”
Dora’s gift was just an envelope with a pretty red bow. She tore it open to find a subscription of theater tickets for her and a guest to the Sunday shows in Carlsville. “These are great. Wait until Charlie sees how kind Debbie was to me for the holidays. Now we can put the savings from our theater shows into purchases for the inn.”
Casey received artwork like Pamela, except his rolled up gift was a limited edition poster signed by the Beatles; John, Paul, Ringo, and George. “Wow,” Casey exclaims as he unrolls the green ribbon that binds the poster. “How did Debbie manage this? I’ll hang it up on the diner wall near my yellow submarine model. It will look so cool.”
Alicia notices Ramsay fidgeting in his chair, so she knows he’s impatient for his gift. She hands him a large unwrapped brown box. “This is for you, Ramsay.”
“It better not be another picture,” he says. “And how come Debbie didn’t even bother wrapping it? I’m the most interesting character of the bunch. She owes me.”
Alicia watches as Ramsay tugs the taped box open with his pudgy fingers. As he spills the contents on the floor, she winces at the case of extra strong deodorant. Remembering that uncomfortable ride in his police car where she had to open the window to escape the smell of sweat emanating from the detective, she understood Debbie’s choice for his present, but he was insulted.
“How dare she!” he shouts jumping up. “I’m leaving this awful party. It seems she plays favorites with the rest of you. But before I go, I must see my partner’s gift.”
Alicia hesitates but there are only a few gifts left. She brings Faraday’s gift over to him. Ramsay watches with his beady dark eyes as the other detective opens the Holly wrapped paper and removes an electric carving knife.” He smiled. “I guess Debbie recalls how I carve the Turkey at all my family’s holiday gatherings and she wanted to make my work easier.”
“See,” Ramsay points at Faraday, “He even got something nice.”
“I think Debbie was trying to give us all something useful,” Alicia says. If you want to leave that’s up to you, but we’ll be eating right after everyone opens their presents (she knew the stout detective wouldn’t give up a free meal).
Predictably, Ramsay sits back down. “I can arrest you for bribery, but I don’t want to ruin your holiday, and that turkey looks mighty nice.” Alicia could almost see him salivate.
“Okay then. This one’s for Edith and Rose. I think Debbie gave you ladies joint gifts.” She places the festive snowman-wrapped package between the sisters. Edith and Rose both tug at the red ribbon to loosen it. Alicia passes Edith the scissor and she cuts the paper as Rose tears it off. Inside are a pile of decorating, baking, and crochet books. Rose takes the cookbooks, while Edith takes the craft ones. They split the decorating ones. “We usually borrow these from the library, but it’ll be nice to have our own editions,” Edith squeaks in her high voice. Rose just smiles.
“Here’s Mac’s gift,” Alicia says passing John’s father a candy cane wrapped box along with a scissor. Mac cuts it open and grins. “Just what I wanted, a set of canning jars for my preserves. I can make another batch of our family’s secret PB&J recipe. In fact, I also brought some of my homemade preserves to spread on our dinner rolls. I hope you all like it.”
“I’m sure we will, dad,” John says. “Who’s next, Ali?”
“Debbie didn’t forget our furry friends,” Alicia explains taking two more gifts from under the tree. “I will have to open these for Fido and Sneaky.” Like Dora’s theater tickets, the dog’s gift was in an envelope with a green bow on it. Alicia opens it and passes the folded paper inside to Mac. “Police dog training lessons, gosh.” Mac’s grin widens showing the dimple John’s inherited. “I guess after Fido assisted John in our book’s search, Debbie figured he might do well to train with the police.”
“I’m not training that mutt,” Ramsay declares. Faraday shushes him with a look.
“This is for Sneaky,” Alicia carries a tall box wrapped with Christmas mice over to the cat. “I guess Debbie had a sense of humor when wrapping this.” She rips open the paper and leaves it on the floor for Sneaky to roll around in and tear. The cat ignores his present that turns out to be a scratching post. “We’ll just add a little catnip to it,” Sheila says. “It’ll be a lot neater than his scratching up cardboard boxes in the library’s storage room.”
“So, what’s for us?” John asks now that all the guests have received their presents.
Alicia brings John his gift. It’s a big box covered in red and white snowflakes reminding Alicia of the wrapping that was on the small and special package John gave her in their book.
“It’s a picnic basket,” John exclaims after opening it. “And it’s stocked with silverware, wine glasses, plates, and cups. This is much nicer than the one I have. It will be perfect for our next picnic on Cove Point, Ali.”
There was one last gift under the tree. It was small and wrapped in silver. Alicia opens it wondering what Debbie would’ve given her main character for Christmas. Inside is a delicate silver necklace at the end of which is a locket. There’s room for a photo on one side that opens with a twist of its tiny latch. On the other side are some engraved words. “The serenity prayer,” Alicia acknowledges. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference,” she recites.
“I know why Debbie gave you that,” John says. “But we want to leave a few surprises for our readers.”
“Is it time to eat now?” Ramsay asks.
Alicia takes a seat at the table. Glancing around at her fellow characters, she says, “Detective Ramsay, I think it’s time to wish our readers a very happy holiday and hope that they enjoy the parts we play in “A Stone’s Throw.”
A Stone’s Throw: Amazon ebook link: http://tinyurl.com/nd5pp5p
Limitless Publishing http://limitlesspublishing.net
Debbie De Louise: author blog: https://debbiedelouise.wordpress.com