I was driving home the other day, looking at all the houses lit and decorated and listening to Christmas music on the radio. One of my favorite carols came on, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” I started to sing along, thoroughly enjoying myself, feeling a little nostalgic, a little whimsical as I drove, because it reminded me of my friends Lindy and Bill, really great people, and I wondered what had happened to them since I saw them last.
Then my reality-based self took over. Nothing happened to them. They got dropped after book five, dummy. They’re not real, they were characters in a book.
My first mystery series. Lindy was (is) a rehearsal director for a Manhattan-based dance company. Bill was (is) an ex NYPD detective turned criminology professor.
I had forgotten in that moment of reverie that they were figments of my imagination. For five, maybe six years, I lived with them, knew their favorite foods, their innermost thoughts, sent them on adventures, dropped bodies at their feet, put them through an emotional journey as they became close and closer but off limits to each other.
I had great plans for those two, but I left them dancing into an elevator to the strains of, guess what, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
Here’s a taste of that final scene. Lindy’s dance company had just performed at an Atlantic City ballroom dance competition, yes, just like Dancing with the Stars, before it became wildly popular. The killer has been caught and everyone is going their separate ways for the holidays.
The elevator came. Bill ignored it. Lindy waited.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come to Connecticut?”
“I can’t. I explained why.”
“I know. I’m just afraid you won’t be there when I come back.”
She touched his arm. “I won’t be. We’ll be on tour. Remember?”
Bill rubbed his forehead. Viennese waltz music blared into the hall and died away.
“But we have a few more days that we can spend together,” said Lindy. “Right?”
From the Pagoda bar, the cabaret singer broke into “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”.
“Right,” said Bill. “What do you want to do?”
Lindy looked up at him and frowned. “Do you know how to dance?”
“What? No. Well, I can sway back and forth to the music.”
“Sure,” she said. “Everybody is in the ballroom or the bar. We’re all alone and I love this song.” She held up her hands.
Bill narrowed his eyes, but finally stepped forward and took her hand in his. His other hand went to her waist. Then he pulled her close.
He was right. He could sway to the music. And he could stay on time, too. It was a good sign, she thought. They were comfortable together. Another elevator came and went. The singer sang only for them. “So have yourself . . .”
“Merry Christmas, Bill.”
This time when the elevator came, they danced inside, and the doors closed behind them.
The name of the book? A Merry Little Murder.
Little did I know at the time, that the doors had really shut behind them. But I have rights back to four of those mysteries and I hope some day, I’ll have the time to find out what really did happened to them. I don’t doubt that they will solve a few more murders and live happily ever after.
And I began to think of all the characters that still live in my head and heart. Some were easy to let go of, like people you knew at one job and gradually faded when you moved to a different job. Some stuck with me through thick and thin. And yes, I do know the difference between my living, breathing, stand next to me and hand me a martini friends, my hand you a hankie friends, rush you to the hospital friends. And my fictional friends, who even though they’ve never actually left the page became a big part of my life.
I’m glad I have both and hope I continue to make new friends, both real and fictional. And I hope my characters become real people and maybe friends to my readers.
So as we come to the end of one year and the beginning of the next, I’d like to wish everyone, both real and fictional, a merry little Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa or whichever holiday you celebrate and all the best in the year to come.