Happy New Year!
It was a few days after Christmas when Josh held his movie screening, but now some time has passed, and if I wait until the real time for their wedding, it would be June.
So, this is the last chance in the series to get everyone name-checked. All of the couples from the previous books are bridesmaids or groomsmen, natch (hey, no had feelings towards Josh, I guess!), except for Allison and Sam, the bookstore couple, who just got married themselves and are on their honeymoon.
(In fact, five out of the six couples, I think, get married between January and June
And there is at least one bright spot in this book, because this happens:
Melissa Montclair, nee Sweeney, dashed up at the last minute to take her place as one of the bridesmaids. “The cake’s fine. Brian put the finishing touches on it without getting frosting on his tux,” she said breathlessly.
So I am taking this to mean that Brian told Josh and Robert Randall that they could take the job in the new tech plant and SHOVE IT, and he is still wearing an APRON and working with his wife.
Yeah, this is actually the only thing that is cool about this book.
In fact, bizarrely, we get no mention whatsoever of Coraline, Robert, or the plant. Now, I know we’re supposed to assume that everything went to plan and the town was saved…again. But hey, at least I can dream that a few people told Robert exactly what they think of him, “nasty ex” or not.
Anyway, we can’t have something cool happen without also having weird and/or jerks things happen, and Whitney condescendingly spares a smile for bridesmaid Gracie, “delighted that she and her Patrick had finally tied the knot, too.” Emphasis mine, because…finally? They are the Book 3 couple and that book came out in August, which means they went from meeting to wedding in ten months, at the very most. So what this really is, is a catty comment on Whitney’s part, because Gracie had been engaged before, and became a “runaway bride” when her fiance cheated on her. So, ha-ha, she’s finally married. Tee. Hee.
So it’s a big wedding, so basically the whole town can come, and this becomes important as Whitney is standing there waiting to walk down the aisle: Whitney tells her mom that Josh thought she wanted a big wedding. Her mom reveals:
“It’s my fault. And Susanna’s [Josh’s mom]. We were the ones who convinced him you needed a fancy shindig so everybody in Bygones could share the moment. … It’s a good thing you and Josh never compared notes about it or we wouldn’t be standing here right now.”
Yeah. I…guesses. Man, if there’s one thing this book isn’t lacking, it’s multiple manipulative women.
No word on whether the nasty ex comes to the wedding, btw.
Anyway, when Whitney gets up there, she tells Josh, and he’s blown away, because turns out they both would have been just as happy eloping.
“From now on, we need to promise to talk more.”
I mean, really? Once we got engaged, my now-husband and I started a discussion on wedding size, like, two days later. And this discussion lasted over multiple weeks. And I just for the life of me cannot envision a scenario wherein our mothers could have convinced each of us that the other person wanted something completely different than what they actually wanted. So, yeah, some lessons in basic communication just might be in order for Whitney and Josh.
But hey, from a RTC standpoint, at least they got to have the wedding of their mothers’ dreams. And that’s what’s important.
Man, overall, this year’s Wintermas selection just didn’t fire on all cylinders for me. It was just kinda low-level offensive and dumb, but without the goofy insanity of our own gold standard, Christmas Town. Eh, better luck next Wintermas.
And in the meantime, I might hit a Christian movie or two before my next planned book. And speaking of Hank, I might rope him in…
Here we go, guys: the big reveal to the whole town!
Josh is backstage at the movie theatre, thinking that his “perfect plans” (his words) will be all spoiled if Whitney doesn’t show. Heh, like there’s a chance she won’t show. She does, of course, thirty seconds later. Whew! For a minute there, there was almost tension.
“I like that red sweater. And leaving your hair down, too.”
Yeah, thanks, jerk. (No word of whether Whitney is wearing the despised glasses or not, but I’m betting not.)
Every soul in Bygones must be out there. People were crammed into the seats while the overflow crowd stood in the back and lined the outer aisles against the soundproofed walls.
Yeah, that’s how I like to watch classic movies: standing up in an aisle for two hours.
He heads out with Whitney and introduces himself:
“Those of you who know me as Josh Smith may be surprised to learn that my last name is actually Barton, although anybody who read the logo on the side of my helicopter has probably figured that out.”
Wow, smug to the end, eh, Josh?
There was an undercurrent of laughter in the crowd, along with a few louder exclamations.
So we’ve transitioned to everyone in town (including, I suppose, the other SOS businesspeople), just being a loud, formless mass of vague approval of Josh’s actions.
Then Josh immediately, right there on stage in front of God and everyone, proposes to Whitney…with a plastic mood ring from a local store.
There was a twinkle in Josh’s eye as he dropped to one knee and offered the ring as if it were an exquisite diamond.
Smiling, he said, Whitney Leigh, I love you. Will you marry me?”
No one breathed. Especially not Whitney. Not only was he asking her to marry him, he was doing it in front of hundreds of witnesses.
He seems SUPER sure of himself, considering this is actually the first time he has told her he loves her.
And I wish she would say no. That would be hilarious.
(Full disclosure: Hank proposed to me in a public place. But it wasn’t in front of the whole town, on an actual stage. Also we had told each other “I love you” many times. Also we had discussed marriage. Also there were, like six people there, not six hundred. So this isn’t a comment on public proposals so much as a comment on public proposals when…you legit might get a “no,” or maybe even a “let me think about it.”)
(Actually, this is more like the proposal in Working Girl, where Mick proposes to Tess, impromptu and because he is scared of losing her, at her best friend’s engagement party in front of everyone they know…and she says (sensibly) “maybe.”)
But OF COURSE Whitney nods yes.
And the crowd goes wild!
“Yay! This guy who pulled the wool over all our eyes and wouldn’t let locals get grants to open businesses just proposed to a local journalist who probably knew all along! Yay!”
They cheer for several minutes. Seriously?
Then Josh continues with the actual pertinent information:
“I’m not looking for praise or thanks…”
Oh sure you are.
“…I’m asking you all to forgive me for deceiving you…”
“…but not for having a weird cockamamie scheme that did not allow locals to participate in any meaningful way.”
“I’m happy to report everything turned out a lot better than even I had imagined.”
A few people started to clap for him.
Um, yay? Woo.
And then he drops the news of the new Barton Technologies branch in town.
This time, he stood back and accepted the loud applause and hoots of joy…
Yeah, I bet he did. The Poor Little Rich Boy still needs and craves and lives for the accolades of others.
“You all know Robert Randall.”
Heh, yeah, they know him. They know they’d like to punch him in the face a lot.
“He’ll be available after the movie when we have our supper out in the lobby. If you’re interested in applying for a job, be sure to see him.”
“Especially those of you who have to wear APRONS on the job. And I’m MAINLY talking to you, Brian, you girly-man, you!”
“Actually, I really love my work and my fiancee and I love working together, so—”
“Shut up, Brian, you’re desperately unhappy! You wear an APRON, man!”
“Dude, it’s no big thing. And hey, Josh, if you really cared about my happiness, why didn’t you give me a grant to open a mechanics shop, like I wanted to, six months ago!”
“I mean, why DID you decree that only outsiders could open businesses? What was UP with that? I mean, was there any kind of logical reason why you couldn’t throw a bone to the actual residents of the town?”
“And if you think I’m going to go crawling back to Robert Randall, of all people, now that you’ve thrown money at him—”
“But it was his nasty ex, Brian! It was a woman’s fault all along! By being emotionally blind, she forced him to close his business and put seventy percent of the town out of a job!”
“Yanno what, man? Screw this! You know we can watch this movie any time we want, right? Like, it’s after Christmas now. Allison and I watched this days ago in the comfort of our own home!”
Sorry, got carried away for a second. Of course the Stepford town has no problem with any of this. They’re just excited about this delightful little piece of news, and now they can sit back and watch It’s A Wonderful Life.
Yanno, It’s A Wonderful Life is a bit of an odd choice for this book. George Bailey discovers that, even though he feels he has accomplished nothing in his little conner of the world, he as in fact accomplished great things. And not with money, but with sincerity and responsibility and compassion and dedication. He has spent his life unwittingly earning the respect and love of everyone in town, just by being himself and having their backs. Which is kinda the opposite of Josh, who swoops into town secretly, funnels money (mostly badly) wherever it strikes his fancy, and thinks of himself the whole time as a “superhero.” And if there’s one thing George Bailey would never compare himself to, it’s a superhero.
And the romance: Mary has loved George Bailey since they were kids. She always saw his great qualities. And as they grew up, he suddenly realized he loved her too. And they had some traits in common: both a bit awkward, a bit march-to-the-tune-of-your-own-drummer. And they were also hot as hell for each other: the phone scene is honestly one of the sexiest movie scenes I can think of.
Somehow I’m just not getting this vibe from Josh and Whitney. And I don’t remember George Bailey ever negging Mary, either.
Hey, why didn’t Josh screen A Christmas Carol? His own mother thinks he was a Scrooge.
And the weird thing about this book is that, as opposed to It’s A Wonderful Life, Josh learns no lessons about anything. He doesn’t even get a comeuppance that could spur a lesson, since Whitney is the single, solitary person who has a problem with his lie. And we never do learn any details that might make sense of Josh’s weird grant stipulations. Why only
six five businesses on Main Street? Why no locals? Why not just open a new Barton plant in Bygones in the first place?
But the really hilarious part is that when Josh and Whitney take their seats for the screening, Coraline and Robert are sitting right in front of them. Yanno, speaking of It’s A Wonderful Life, I’m surprised the town hasn’t gone all Lost Ending on Robert’s ass:
Now THAT would be a Christian romance worth reading!
Chapter 20 (out of 21) is the get-Josh-back-to-Bygones-and-setup-for-the-big-reveal chapter. It’s just as riveting as you might imagine.
Actually, it probably is riveting for the citizens of Bygones, since Josh swoops in with his mom in their private helicopter. Coraline, “chauffeured” by Robert Randall, picks them up, because they land in the parking lot of the old plant. Also, I guess Coraline and Josh’s mom are old friends, not that I care.
Randall, “jilted” into closing his own business by his “nasty ex,” immediately asks about Josh’s plans. Why am I not surprised that this loser is completely reliant on others to solve his problems and save his reputation?
Josh confirms that he will indeed by opening up a branch of his computer business here, and will “pay my current staff to relocate [to Bygones] as well as adding local workers.”
Okay, again, SEVENTY PERCENT of the town was employed by Randall. So how is hiring a few locals and trying to flood the town with a bunch of St. Louis natives (who I’m sure will be just THRILLED to uproot their lives and families on Josh’s say-so) going to fix this failing town?
Also, there won’t be a coffee shop anymore, I guess. So one-sixth of the savior-ness of the Main Street initiative will be gone.
Randall is super-psyched that Josh is going to name him “local consultant,” but asks for time off immediately, to marry Coraline and take her on a honeymoon. Again, how has the rest of the town not…run him out of town yet?
“Thanks for making me local consultant, Josh! I’ll teach you how to screw everything up with the best of ’em! The secret is to always find a woman to blame all your failings on.”
Oh, and this bizarre arrangement happens: Josh doesn’t have a place for his mom to stay (what, there isn’t a single motel anywhere nearby?), so Randal proposes that Coraline’s grown sons bunk at his place, while Coraline, Coraline’s daughter, and Josh’s mom all bunk at Coraline’s place.
So…Randall and Coraline are engaged. And both have been married before. And it’s still not okay for them to share a bed? Weird. Also this has a very weird summer-camp vibe to it: boys in one house, girls in another. And why who in the HELL is going to cook and clean for the menfolk if all the womenfolk are hanging in one house together, hmmmm???
They talk about the It’s A Wonderful Life screening, and Josh hilariously says that the whole town is invited, “as many as can squeeze in, with overflow in the lobby if necessary.”
Um, you can’t watch a movie from the theater’s lobby, Josh. I’m sorry, someone should have told you that sooner.
Oh, and in his coveted new role, Randall suggests Brian Montclair as a manager. Yanno, he’s the girly-man who works in the bakery with his fiancee, because only a girly-man would be into working at a bakery with his fiancee, because everyone knows how hilarious a man in an apron is.
“Do you think he’d consider leaving the bakery?”
Robert laughed again. “For a job that doesn’t require him to wear an apron? That’s a no-brainer.”
Josh frowned. “Well, I heard that Brian really enjoys his work and the bakery is really successful—”
Robert was now doubled over with laughter. “But an apron, Josh! An APRON!! What kind of Real Man would wear an apron???”
Josh nodded. “I guess. But I work in the same block as Brian and Melissa, and they always seem really happy together and they’re always going on about how great it is to be running a business together and be with each other all day—”
Randall wiped away a tear of helpless laughter. “Oh, like a Macho Man would really want to work with his wife. I mean, she’s like, a girl, dude!
Yeah, but hey, a MAN…in an APRON…amirite?
Anyway, Josh goes to see Whitney and discuss the screening. He mentions that his mom is in town, and Whitney is like a swoony teenage girl and is thinking, “ooooh, of course he brought his mom to town to meet me,” and Josh is just explaining it like, “yeah, it’s the holidays and also this is her hometown.”
In added hilarity, word has already reached Whitney (so, presumably, many others), that Josh private-helicoptered himself into town. And Whitney has her editor holding space for her on the front page of the paper, so she can file her story as soon as Josh makes his announcement. Which…isn’t the whole story supposed to be a scoop? And doesn’t it kinda destroy the scoop-ness if the whole town finds out the secret and THEN Whitney publishes the story? Wasn’t the whole point of the story to break the news to everyone herself?
Man, this is going to be the weirdest, lamest screening of It’s A Wonderful Life ever, isn’t it?
By the time Whitney is out of the hospital, almost two full days have passed, and it’s Christmas Eve. She and Josh act all lovey-dovey as he drives her home from the hospital, but the mood is spoiled when he immediately ditches to go back to St. Louis to “take care of some business in person.” Whitney asks what specifically, he means, and he rather snidely responds, “Who wants to know? Are you back to being a reporter so soon?” Which, she’s always a reporter, dude, ’cause that’s her job. Also, leave her the frak alone anyway, you’re literally taking her home from the hospital after a car accident, asshat.
(And yeah, you could maybe read this as playful banter, but Whitney takes the question seriously, and, again, just home from the hospital.)
In fact, he’s in so much of a hurry that he doesn’t even walk her to her door, but just drops her off. Wow, what a Christian gentleman.
…he had a million details that needed his personal touch, particularly since the upcoming holidays would keep many workers at home.
Again, he manages to make this sound snide, even in his own head.
“You’ll want all day tomorrow, I suppose, Barton Industry employees???”
At least Whitney’s ever-so-sensitive mom is waiting for her at home, and rather scolds her daughter for being a bit miffed at Josh just cutting and running like this. As any loving mother would do when her daughter almost died in a car accident two days ago.
And that very evening, Josh does call from St. Louis, and, “sighing,” tells her the rest of the details of the SOS project for her story that she’ll run when he damn well tells her she is permitted to do so, dammit.
Josh does actually provide the answer to something I was wondering, which is how he got himself “chosen” to be one of the businesspeople in the first place.
“The final say was through the dummy corporation that was funneling the money. Since I was their sole member, it was easy.”
Wow, he sure makes it sound slimy, the way he says it. He also really makes it sound like he was just slumming, for fun.
Whitney asks if he’s still planning to leave Bygones after the big reveal, and Josh says he’s not going to leave anymore.
He paused for effect.
Damn, but he is a manipulative jerk.
He vaguely lists some new ideas to help the town, like “a strip mall out near the old Randall Manufacturing plant.” Yeah, ’cause nothing saves a dying town like one strip mall! Now, presumably, this is all a ruse, because Josh is probably just finalizing the new computer company branch out there, but it still sounds stupid as hell.
But Whitney, blinded by love, thinks it is a “wonderful idea.” Sure, honey.
And, second verse same as the first, Josh and Whitney hang up, and Whitney whines to her mother, and her mother defends Josh.
Sounds like Whitney should get used to this dynamic—looks like it’s going to be the norm for a long time…
Christmas morning, and St. Louis has a snowstorm now. Josh tries calling Whitney, and her phone goes to voicemail. Josh gets cut off twice and has to call back because he can’t successfully leave the long, rambling message he wants to. This causes “frustration” and “struggling to keep his temper in check.” So mature!
Then his mom calls, and turns out she didn’t go on her cruise after all (of course) because two of her friends got sick. So Josh offers to get a pizza and come over so they can finally catch up (and he can tell her everything), and this his mom says this:
“You used to be nearly as fussy about wanting fancy meals as your dad was. When did you get so normal?”
So wait, he was the only teenager and early-20-something guy in the country who wouldn’t go for pizza or burgers, given the option?
Oh, and he was apparently also a Scrooge, a fact we have not heard anything about before. But when Josh says he held a catered holiday party for the employees, then sent them home early on Christmas Eve Day, and also gave out bonuses, this blows his mom’s mind. Damn, Josh, what kind of monster were you? Because we are in Chapter 19 out of 21 (plus Epilogue), and this is the first we’re hearing that Josh was a Scrooge of a boss.
And speaking of revealing information late in the game, Josh tells his mom about the “nosy reporter” he has fallen for. His mom suggests buying her a new car, since she wrecked hers, and Josh counters with jewelry, since “That’s what Dad always got for you,” and we learn that his dad did that as “an apology for breaking his marriage vows.” Um, okay, and again, we do not exactly have a long time before the end of the book to resolve this issue.
Mom says she felt sorry for him because he was a Scrooge and all he cared about was money, and she was afraid her son was the same way, and Josh says he was. Which, first we’ve heard of this.
But it’s okay, I guess, because obviously he can’t be a Scrooge anymore, because he’s a new baby Christian. And his mom is overjoyed. Of course.
And again, Josh talks to Whitney on the phone, and again says he’ll be delayed, and again, she whines to her mother, who again takes Josh’s side. Riveting. And when Whitney says she has to leave everything to God, her mom sensitively says, “That’s the first totally sensible thing you’ve said.”
Remember, everyone, Josh is supposed to be the one with a lousy childhood.
Damn, dudes, I just cannot get over how NOT cozy Cozy Christmas is.
And it’s about to get even less cozy, because it’s time for that grand Wintermas tradition ’round these parts: the disappearance of a child!
Well, okay, it’s the disappearance of Whitney, but since women are treated like children in this book, it’s really all the same.
As you might recall from past Christmas works, the disappearance of a child is a mainstay of these stories: The Brat Nathan ran away to visit his dad in Christmas Town, cute little Jade ran off into the woods to catch her dad a Christmas star in In The Spirit of…Christmas, and baby Timmy was stolen from his family in A Ranger Christmas.
(And, although they don’t disappear, Erin and little Max are threatened (and Max threatened specifically with kidnapping) in The Prodigal’s Christmas Reunion. So there’s that, too. And it almost counts double because Max had been a kidnapping victim before the book even began.)
So, on to this year’s Wintermas disappearance!
Whitney drives Coraline home, and Coraline invites Whitney in to visit with her and her single son, Michael.
Whitney gritted her teeth to keep from saying something she might regret. Why was life so complicated? And why did everybody seem to think she couldn’t be happy if she was unmarried? Probably because I don’t exactly look overjoyed at the moment, Whitney answered silently.
Well, she doesn’t look overjoyed because she’s just learned that the man she cared about has been lying to her since the day they met. Also two people have been trying to Christian-guilt-trip her into immediate forgiveness. Also also, Whitney is TWENTY-FIVE, which means she has to get married immediately or be forever on the shelf.
(And hey, don’t get me wrong: my marriage has brought me more joy and contentment than I ever thought possible. But it happens when it happens, Coraline! (And really, she of all people should know that!))
So Whitney begs off and heads out. Then she decides to take the long way home.
There was nothing like a weeping daughter to bring out a mother’s protective instincts.
Huh, really? Because the last time Whitney was weeping, her mother laughed in her face.
Whitney uses the longer drive to reproach herself for being a bad Christian…
What kind of Christian would refuse to heed a heartfelt story of repentance?
And all seems well except sensible country girl Whitney has chosen to take a long drive in a very wet snowstorm. There’s icy slush and bad roads and she can barely see. In a moment that she can’t see the road, Whitney takes her foot off the gas, then thinks she’s applying her foot to the brake, but just hits the accelerator again.
Okay, I’m torn between feeling sympathy because I think this could happen to anybody, but this whole thing is such an exercise in bad judgment… Also, again, practical country girl?
Oh, and then, out of “instinct,” she hits the accelerator harder. She slides, the car flips (???), and she ends up in a snowbank, kinda half on her side, I think.
Oh, and remember that Whitney drives a vintage convertible. So when she flipped, she “ducked,” and wasn’t crushed when the top collapsed all around her.
Hmmm…suffice it to say I have a bit of experience in this area, and I do not find it plausible that she would be able to “duck” sufficiently, or on command, like that.
Meanwhile, Josh, in true stalker fashion, has decided to follow Whitney home, just to see that she gets there safely and all, since she’s an emotional female and “there was no telling how well she’d cope. Or how competently she’d handle the car.”
Huh. Sure is funny how our hero is always proven right when he treats the heroine like a child.
But even Manly Man Josh is in trouble from the “mere storm” (his words), and misses the turn to Whitney’s house. (He also doesn’t know that she took the long way.) He pulls over to check his phone, but has no reception, and by the time he’s ready to pull out again, he’s stuck.
Ha! Mister Women Can’t Competently Handle Cars!
Of course, his phone magically works now (it’s a Christmas miracle!) so he calls for a tow. Elwood Dill, the self-proclaimed hippie, shows up, and mentions another wreck he saw on the way, which he assumed was abandoned. Josh, in turn, immediately assumes it’s Whitney’s car (it is, but he really has no way of knowing this), and then things get weird.
Elwood refuses to go to the other wreck until he has helped Josh. (As usual for this book, he blames this on a woman: his wife took the call, and she’ll be pissed if he takes another job before he finishes this one, even if the first jobs requests that he do so.)
“Then see me your truck,” Josh demanded, reaching for his wallet. “How much?”
“Whoa. Hold on, son. You can’t afford to buy my wrecker, even if it is old. Now calm down and let’s get you pulled out of that ditch.”
Josh had always relied upon his wits to get what he wanted.
Wait, what? So Josh’s method of problem-solving and personal interactions is just throwing massive amounts of cash at a problem? That’s fair, I guess, but I wouldn’t exactly call it relying upon one’s wits. And he had always relied on his wits to get what he wanted? Really? When exactly did you have to do that, Josh, given your massive family wealth?
Hilariously, having pondered on how he’s lived by his wits so far, Josh just does the same thing again: he throws money at the problem. He calls Velma himself and offers to pay for both tows, then this immediately happens:
“Come on. Let’s go.” [Josh said]
“I can’t just leave my chain in the street. It’ll only take a minute to gather it up.”
“A hundred-dollar bonus if you come now!” Josh shouted.
But wait, won’t he need the chain at the other job?
“Five hundred. Cash!”
“Since you put it that way,” Elwood began to saunter back toward the wrecker.
Josh leaned out the half-open passenger door and yelled, “A thousand if you run.”
The incredulous driver was still grinning and shaking his head as he climbed behind the wheel and started the enormous truck.
His smile faded and his jaw dropped when Josh shoved a handful of crisp, hundred dollar bills into his nearest hand and roared, “Drive!”
Yanno, I seem to recall Josh complaining that when people know he has money, he is treated differently. Mayyyybbbeeee that wouldn’t happen so much if he didn’t literally fling cash at people for obeying his screaming orders.
So they get there and of course they call the police and ambulance and they rescue her. And again, we see why Josh has such a differently-treated person when he was rich: he orders Elwood around, yells and punches things when he can’t single-handedly extricate Whitney from the car, and is intensely impatient with the freaking paramedics who are trying to do their jobs, gorramit, and actually rescue Whitney without harming her further.
In the ambulance, Whitney regains consciousness and immediately apologizes to Josh. For what, I’m not certain, except maybe being a bad Christian.
The big story was no longer dependent upon the identity of Mr. Moneybags. The truly important information was warming her heart and making her soul sing praises to the Lord.
Yup, the disappearance of a child (or woman who is like a child), of course brought out declarations of love and praises to the Lord.
Also lots of cash.
Time for the big reveal, everyone! Let’s see how Josh can screw this up.
Well, he first gets himself all self-pitying. As he and Whitney decorate a tree for Whitney’s parents, he reflects on how sad it was the he didn’t get to do this as a kid, due to those accursed decorators his father hired.
Anything that brought happiness into a home should never be banned, not even if it caused a terrible mess.
This leads in turn to him sighing to Whitney about how he never got to have a dog as a kid. Poor little rich boy.
Decorating done, he asks Whitney if they can “go somewhere private to talk.” This elicits a reaction that implies that Whitney is suspecting a proposal or something along those lines, which would seem like awfully quick work on Josh’s part, seeing as how they’ve had exactly one kiss, last week.
Whitney has left her glasses off the whole evening, given her mother’s comments about how “studious” she looks with them, and Josh checks with her to make sure she can see his face clearly, because “I want you to be able to judge how I feel and understand that I’m telling you the absolute truth.”
This understandably makes Whitney nervous, to the point that she asks if he’s married or something. Well, or something, I guess.
Whitney actually calls out Josh on sending mixed signals. And he doesn’t deny this, but tells her that’s for “a reason,” relating to “my income.” Innocent, naive Whitney takes this to mean he is ashamed of being poor, and assures him that she is just a “down-to-earth, country girl.” She even reiterates her condescending view of rich people, who “always seem so unhappy and unfulfilled.”
Well, Whitney at least proves that you don’t have to be rich to be a smug little snot.
Finally, before Whitney can dig her misapprehension hole any deeper, Josh pulls the trigger and tells her his real name and that he is the mysterious benefactor. Unsurprisingly, Whitney is immediately angered about the lying-for-months thing.
“Remember, I wasn’t a Christian when all this started.”
It’s adorable that he blames the situation on that. Because it wasn’t like he walked down the aisle in church and then confessed the next minute.
But the line doesn’t work on Whitney either. She wants to get her tape recorder and immediately write a story, but Josh, for reasons best known to himself, begs off. As a sort of compromise, he asks that she wait until the It’s a Wonderful Life screening, but she is “rip-snorting infuriated,” and refuses to sit on this “hot news.” Which, fair. I’m kinda fuzzy on why Josh needs to wait until after Christmas.
Josh, no doubt frustrated that things aren’t going exactly as he wished, decides condescension is the best strategy:
“You’re way too wound up to do [the interview] tonight.”
“Just remember, without the inside details that only I can provide, you won’t have the scoop you need to win your Pulitzer.”
And hey, not that there’s anything wrong with Josh being an asshole here: it’s conflict, something we’ve been sorely missing up till now. And he doesn’t even apologize for saying that, even though he knows it was a “terrible mistake,” he just peaces out.
Whitney starts crying and her mother hears and comes in. Weirdly, she also jumps to the immediate conclusion that Josh is married. Whitney, who didn’t exactly take a vow of silence on this matter, even though she impliedly won’t write her story yet, tells Mom all, and her mother, ever so sensitive to her daughter’s pain…laughs in her face. Because Josh was “just trying to do good,” and who cares if he toyed with her only child’s heart for weeks and weeks?
I’m beginning to understand why everybody in town thinks Whitney’s parents don’t get along. Respect does not seem a high priority in this family.
Then again, maybe it’s a gender thing. Because speaking of not taking women’s feelings seriously, Josh calls Coraline as soon as he gets home, whining to her about how Whitney “went ballistic” when he told her the truth, even though he’d “hoped she’d be thrilled.” I know I’m always thrilled when I find out someone’s been lying to my face for months.
Josh invites Coraline to be their “disinterested” intermediary in the interview, though I’m not sure how disinterested the head of the Save Our Streets committee could possibly be.
Coraline hilariously suggests that the interview take place at Josh’s apartment, because “it will give you a chance to show her that you haven’t been lording it over the rest of us. Actually, I can’t believe how simply I’ve heard you’ve been living since you came to town.”
He’s living just as simply as any of the other businesspeople, I suppose. He’s a single man who just moved to town: how big of a mansion did she expect him to build?
Anyway, Coraline then “blackmails” Josh into thinking about opening a branch of his company in Bygones. And of course, Robert Randall is at Coraline’s house, right this very moment, so she puts the men on the phone together so they can talk man-talk about business-y business.
Later, Coraline calls Whitney and sets up the interview. They head over to Josh’s place after church, and of course, Coraline was completely right about Whitney being blown away by Josh living in a small apartment. Josh even smugly drives the point home:
“I could have made it into a lush penthouse, I suppose. I just saw no need.”
Of course, he “saw no need” because he was planning to leave after six months, not because he’s okay with living the life of a common man.
Things get off to a rollicking good start when Whitney gets pissed at Coraline for not telling her more and sooner, which again, fair. Josh blathers on about his Poor Little Rich Boy childhood and how he wanted to save the town for his Bygones-native mom’s sake. (Btw, remember that he’s been lying to her all this time, too.)
Josh tells Whitney that the whole thing of pretending to be a coffee shop owner was so he “could keep an eye on the whole operation without making anybody nervous,” because if they knew who he was, they would be “always either looking to see if the donor is watching them or keeping an eye out to try to figure out what’s coming next.” Which is kinda weird of him to say, because he was there in secret TO KEEP AN EYE ON THEM. So isn’t this really just as bad as being open about it?
Coraline, the disinterested intermediary, urges Whitney to “put yourself in Josh’s place,” and guilt-trips her by saying that rejecting him for lying to everyone for months on end is just as bad as if she rejected a homeless and hungry Josh who showed up to the church in rags.
Then Josh brings it all home by trying to force forgiveness from Whitney on his terms, right this minute, thank you very much.
“In that case [if you wouldn’t reject a homeless me], tell me you forgive me.”
Ah, Christians! Forgiveness on demand, and immediately, and completely, just as though it had never happened! Don’t want to? Guess you’re just a baaaddddd Christian!
And Whitney, to give her credit, does not fall for this manipulation. Now it’s her turn to peace out. She drives off with Coraline, Josh reflecting that he will always love her. Because when you love someone, manipulating their forgiveness on demand is the best course of action.
I cannot believe that we are halfway through this book and freaking NOTHING has happened. Again, I’m not expecting an action-packed adventure here, but…yanno, SOMETHING.
They’re all back from the decorating and hanging at the coffee shop. And Whitney decides it is time to manipulate Josh into going on a date:
“So, are we still on for next week?”
The puzzlement on his face amused her and boosted her mood. Her smile broadened naturally. “For the outdoor pageant. Remember? You said you couldn’t go tonight because of this decorating project.”
“I don’t recall promising to go later.”
“It was implied,” Whitney says flatly.
Okay, we’ve gone without overt misogyny, so I guess it’s time for some “feminine” manipulation, just to make sure we dislike both our main characters.
Finally, Josh shrugged. “Okay. What time?”
Wow, you can really tell how into this (and her) he is!
Whitney reflects that she is “so crazy about Josh Smith [she] can hardly stand it.” Which I guess explains (???) why she basically strong-arms him into taking her where she wants to go. That and “he was so reticent she often suspected he was putting her off rather than attempting to get to know her better.”
So again, correctly interpreting that he’s trying to put her off is just a cue to her to PUSH HARDER.
Younger women might try to remake themselves into someone they thought would please the man in whom they were interested. Whitney was not going to fall into that trap. She was going to be totally herself.
Manipulative and pushy?
Oh, and younger women try to change to please men. But not an older, worldly woman like Whitney…who is TWENTY-FIVE.
Whitney didn’t stop grinning until she reached her car and climbed in. Josh was going to go to the pageant with her! He hadn’t acted as if he was very enthused but she couldn’t be choosy when it came to drawing him out.
Yeah, celebrate bullying a guy into taking you out. Weirdo.
So this pageant “date” isn’t going to happen for like, a whole other week and there’s church before that. Josh flakes on church, lying like a good little RTC that he thinks he’s coming down with something.
In a way that would probably be labelled stalker-y if it came from a man, Whitney immediately descends on the coffee shop with questions and chicken soup. And then she comes back to the coffee shop, again and again and again, “at least twice a day” over the course of the week, and “almost going so far as insinuating that his illness had been a sham.”
Which, of course, it had been. And older, worldly Whitney is not at ALL put off by a man so desperate to avoid her that he’s feigning illness and flaking on church.
But then again, Josh does run hot and cold. He’s spent the week lying to and avoiding Whitney, but when she arrives for their “date,” he’s all smiles. He has been vaguely wondering about God’s plan for him with all this.
They head off, and conversation almost immediately turns to money. Whitney, of course, has problems with rich people. I say “of course” not because that trait makes sense for Whitney’s character, but because Josh is rich, so Whitney has to have a problem with rich people.
“The problem is the sense of absolute power that rich folks get. They think they can do anything if they’re wealthy. They can lie and cheat and behave abominably as long as their bank accounts are full enough to bail them out of trouble.”
Josh pulls a #notallrichpeople card, and Whitney tells him of her latest theory, which is that Robert Randall is secretly the super-secret benefactor. Her theory is that he is lying about being bankrupt and having to lay off everyone. (Well, being “jilted” by his “nasty ex,” thus leading to him closing his plant. As happens.) Josh is a bit weirded out by all this, and gets Whitney’s assurance that she’s not going to move on this until she has actual evidence. That done, we get to the nativity play.
For a failing town, the church has put together a seemingly expensive presentation here: a multi-stage, interactive play with dozens of actors, full sets recreating the town of Bethlehem, huts along the “road,” loudspeakers, spotlights, and actual animals, including sheep and a donkey. Some of the actors mess up and everyone has a good laugh. After, Josh once again gets into his Poor Little Rich Boy routine, explaining for a second time to Whitney that his family had a (gasp!) professional decorator do their house up for Christmas.
Whitney talks him into getting a tree and taking it to her parents’ house to decorate with them. And when she gets her mom alone in the kitchen, she reveals Josh’s Poor Little Rich Boy past to her. Mom gets that Whitney is into Josh, and it all leads to a callback to Whitney’s “studious” and “overwhelming” glasses. Because although Whitney has convinced herself that she will not change herself for a man…she wants to change herself for a man.
Time for the extremely exciting community project!
Okay, it is not in the least exciting. Nor is it even cozy. I’m starting to have flashbacks to The Edge of Darkness. Now granted, in The Edge of Darkness, exciting events were supposed to happen all the time. I don’t expect romance characters to be running away from crappy assassins or rolling boulders or anything, but seriously, nothing is happened in this story.
The only thing that really happens at all is some fat-shaming: see, the volunteers are meeting up at the general store/pizza shop run by a middle-aged married couple of “self-styled hippies,” Elwood and Velma Dill. The Dills are providing free pizza for all the volunteers, but that certainly won’t stop Whitney from her sneering!
In Velma’s case, her excess weight made the [tattoo] on her arm seem a trifle distorted and Whitney hated to imagine the inked images that might be hidden beneath the loose T-shirt and jeans currently covered by the woman’s apron.
Wow, what a nice person! (I mean Velma, of course, who is making tons of free pizza for town volunteers.)
After much time spent checking in with the couples from the other books in the series, the group heads out to string Wintermas lights at the homes of the less fortunate (which I suppose should be about seventy percent of the town these days).
As they go, Josh worries about what he always worries about: that Whitney and everyone else will find out he’s the mysterious benefactor, and they’ll be pissed. Remembering that he is now a Christian, Josh says a general prayer for God to “help me do the right thing the right way” and “make Whitney understand.” Which is refreshingly non-misogynistic of Josh so hey, props.
Really, just nothing happens. They kinda almost kiss again, but it isn’t cute or sexy or charged with tension in any way. At one point, they talk about Josh’s computers and computer games, and Whitney confirms that “You aren’t one of those guys who look at naughty pictures [online], are you?”
Love that the book has to reassure us on this point, since Josh is into (gasp!) computers.
And that is seriously it. Stringing some Wintermas lights. Sounds like it should be cozy, but is not. But they’re heading to the live Bethlehem thing next time…maybe that’ll be cozy. Maybe.
On Monday morning, Josh has a small bunch of people waiting outside before he unlocks the doors. Geez, dude, open on Sundays, wouldja?
Coraline gets a coffee and gets him away from the morning rush (great business owner!) to reveal that SHE KNOWS WHO HE IS!!!
Which…I thought she already did. She certainly acted like she did when she was talking to Whitney. And Josh certainly acted like she did when he learned she was talking to Whitney.
Damn, this book is bad at showing us who knows what.
Anyway, they have a long talk about the whole situation, and I can just imagine a long line of people wanting coffee, then getting annoyed and leaving. After all, Matt the teen helper can’t be here for the morning rush, can he? He still has school.
Josh defends his decision to “come here incognito” because the Poor Little Rich Boy just didn’t want people to “treat me differently.” Put a pin in that.
Coraline suggests what I can only imagine will be the finale of this book and series: that Josh expand Barton Technologies to Bygones. Which seems actually to be a much simpler and more logical solution to the town’s woes than opening up six (really five) random small business for six days a week.
Oh, but then we get to the really juicy part of this book, which I totally did not see coming: Coraline jumps into a deep and passionate defense of Robert Randall, formerly of Randall Manufacturing, which employed 70% of the town.
And you’ll never guess! The town going under is not at ALL the fault of Robert Randall closing down. Nope, certainly not HIS fault!
It’s all a WOMAN’S fault!
“The poor man was jilted. Dumped and divorced. After that he sort of quit trying,” Coraline said with a telling sigh. “His wife was not only cruel, she was emotionally blind.”
“I knew them both. Robert Randall is one of the nicest, sweetest gentlemen I’ve ever met. If he hadn’t lost hope and incentive, thanks to Linda, that nasty ex of his, his plant would probably have survived a temporary slump.”
“It’s one thing to be tricked by a stranger and quite another to be played for a fool by someone you trusted.” She pulled a face. “If you don’t think so, just ask Robert Randall. That poor man has really been through the wringer.”
So I mean, it’s not exactly shocking that this book is blaming the whole sorry situation on a cruel, emotionally blind, nasty ex who played a man for a fool, but…
Coraline’s defense sure does seem…personal, doesn’t it? Well, if your mind went where mine did, you’re not wrong: Coraline has a big ole crush on Robert Randall, and now that the nasty ex is out of the way, she’s making her move! Robert is spending Christmas with her and her three grown kids.
Now, the sad thing about this is, I normally LOVE when fiction acknowledges that romance is not something reserved for the under-30 set. I love stories of later-in-life romance. But this just strikes me as really skeevy, with the woman bad-mouthing the nasty ex.
Not cool, Coraline. Not cool at all.
Oh, and speaking of not being cool, let’s get back to Josh and his hangups about people treating him differently. Coraline advises Josh to come clean with Whitney ASAP. But Josh has all kinds of excuses at the ready: that “eager-beaver newspaper reporter” Whitney would be “disappointed.”
Then that he needs Whitney to write the promo for his free screening of It’s A Wonderful Life (bizarrely scheduled for December 27th) and needs to “get that out of the way first.”
Then that if he reveals the truth to Whitney, she might “go ballistic and reveal my secret.”
Um, a bit self-contradictory, what? Isn’t the point of telling Whitney so she can tell everyone else?
Coraline observes that Whitney and Josh have a “relationship,” and that they’re, like, totally into each other. This cues Josh to reflect on the “many women [who] have thrown themselves at me after they found out I was loaded.”
Aw, poor baby. Soooooo many women wanna bang me, my life is soooooo tough!
And what an odd thought for him to have when they’re talking about Whitney, who only knows him as Josh Smith, small businessman, and already likes him. So, what, he’s prematurely judging her for potentially continuing to like him after she finds out he’s rich?
Woman can’t win for losing in this book.
But he concludes that no matter what, Whitney will be “absolutely furious” when she find out the truth. He’s probably not wrong about that.
Later, Whitney drops by to get her dad’s computer. Josh has installed all kinds of super high-tech bells and whistles on it, like…virus protection!
Josh kisses her hands (twice, like a harlot!), then Rico Suave moves in for an actual lip kiss (!), then breaks kiss and apologizes, which is always super great for the ladies.
Disappointed, Whitney heads for that font of feminine wisdom, Coraline.
Whitney spills all the beans (coffee beans, HA!) about the kissy-facing with Josh, and Coraline sensitively turns the subject immediately to herself:
“Sometimes, when a man seems reluctant, it’s because he isn’t sure of your feelings and doesn’t want to risk rejection.” She paused, smiled, then added, “That was what happened between me and Robert, but I finally got him to admit we has willing to start over—with me.”
Okay, Coraline, we get it. You’re getting laid. Chill out about it.
From this “advice,” Whitney concludes that she should “wait and give him space.”
Sensing that once again, too long has gone by without a mention of RTC-ianity, Whitney tells Coraline to “feel free to add me to your prayer list,” and then tells Coraline to “have fun with Mr. Randall.”
Um, shouldn’t the whole town be SUPER PISSED at Robert Randall right now? He has put almost three-quarters of the town out of work, after all. Are they really all just winking and giggling at the adorable couple? Weird. I’m kinda surprised they haven’t tarred and featured him. Guess they’re way to Christian for that.
Anyway, Whitney then doubles back to the coffee shop, at Coraline’s additional suggestion, to invite Josh to see “the Bethlehem program” (by which I assume she means a live Nativity scene) at the church with her. But Josh already promised Matt he would go string Christmas lights at the homes of the less fortunate or something, and Whitney basically invites herself along (it’s sort of a community service group, so it’s not quite so presumptuous as all that, but I kid…).
Josh reflects that Whitney “was simply being herself, with all her idiosyncrasies and the open innocence and gullibility of a newborn babe.”
Boy, he sure does respect this woman that he is ostensibly falling for!
Then again, I guess she’s getting about as much respect as any Nasty Woman in this story.
Not for nothing, but this story is one of the least cozy I have ever read!
Whitney has an old laptop that she gave to her father to play with, except he sucks at computers, so it is now in Josh’s capable hands.
And by capable, I mean that Josh is considering his “personal ethics” the only impediment to searching the computer to see how much work Whitney has put on it, and how much she knows about him. And we all know what a paragon of ethics Josh is!
He pokes around in the computer, and sees that Whitney actually backs up her files, proving herself “thorough” and “tenacious.” Which in turn means that he needs “to start avoiding her as much as possible. … Evasion from now on was the imperative…”
Man, he runs so hot and cold…speaking of not being cozy.
But of course, Whitney immediately shows up, despite the fact that “everyone knew there were no Main Street stores open on Sundays” (great business model for a dying town!), and she’s waving the cord to the computer around like she found a rare gem or something.
Josh half-heartedly tries to get rid of her, hilariously citing that he doesn’t want people to think “I’ve opened on the Sabbath,” then citing wagging tongues and the gossip of a small town. I mean, my God! Two single people hanging out together! Clutch those pearls!
Failing that, he decides to fix her a drink (a hot one, not an alcoholic one, natch) and plays turnaround with her, asking her about her background so she can’t ask him about his (and have to lie, like a good RTC shouldn’t, at least not directly and in words).
Whitney’s background is about what you’d expect: editor of the school newspaper, journalism classes at junior college, back home to work for the local paper. Riveting.
This weirdly segues into a brief discussion of faith, so I kinda think the author just realized she hadn’t mentioned it in awhile, since the vague church service and the vague prayer Dad made before dinner.
Actually, it’s especially odd since this is the rare RTC romance we’ve covered where both halves of the couple are already RTC!
“It may not make a lot of sense to believe in God, yet you and I do.” [said Whitney]
Well. No argument there.
Josh concurs, adding that “our faith may be a stretch for some people.”
Man, these two are all of the sudden making some sense! Whitney even goes on to characterize faith as a choice, though I’m not sure I would personally go that far. I think there is an element of choice for a lot of people, but it’s not really a choice in the sense of picking…say, a profession or a hobby or something.
Whitney makes plans to provide Josh with some email addresses she wants him to research for her, a semi-agreement they came to over dinner. That plot stuff done, she leans in for a kiss.
Her eyes misted. She cheeks warmed. Her lips parted ever so slightly.
Josh isn’t having it.
Was she taunting him? Or was she as oblivious to her own charms as she seemed?
Evil temptress or naive innocent? These are the only two options, after all.
Either way, DENIED.