Monthly Archives: December 2013

ItSo…C: Chapter 15 and Epilogue

Before we wrap (Ha!  See what I did there?  Because you wrap Christmas presents…) this baby up, I wanted to address a few comments on the last chapter.

Ivan says:

Also, Sherriff, whatever else Jesse might have done wrong, would it kill you to show a little sympathy for the victim of another crime? One that your department never noticed or looked into for two decades, until the victim started looking around on his own? Great taking care of your own there.

Yeah, the Sheriff…definitely has his own way of doing things.  He hems and haws about the fact that it’s Jesse who is the “boy” who rightfully owns the farm.  But then he tells Lindsey about how horrible it is that the farm was taken from Jesse and that “you can’t blame a man for trying to reclaim what was stolen from him.”  And then he confronts Jesse and scolds him for “[coming] here under false pretenses…[and]…[being] dishonest with her from the start.”

And Skyknight says:

This is where I wonder how much time the author allotted herself to write this. Presumably not quite as compressed as Jerry “21 Days or Nothing” Jenkins, but the progression and elements don’t seem terribly well welded together.

Which makes me notice a couple of things as I begin Chapter 15:

1.  We are informed twice in less than two pages that Lindsey’s lawyer’s eyes are brown.

2.  We are informed twice in one page that she drives a Dakota.

800px-Dodge-Dakota-extended

(For the record, Jesse drives a Silverado.)

800px-2005_Chevrolet_Silverado_2500HD

This all just feels so…rushed.  Like there wasn’t time for a final read-through of the chapter.  Repetition, irrelevant details so late in the game.

Meh.

Anyway, yeah, Lindsey has a lawyer.  Though she only got him so she could completely give up her rights to the farm.

Her first instinct had been anger and hurt and bitter resentment.  She’d wanted to rail at Jesse and send him away.  She’d wanted to keep the land to pay him back for lying to her, for making her believe he loved her when, all the while, he was plotting to evict her.

Makes sense to me!

But as soon as the first rush of emotion passed, she’d prayed.  And as hard as the decision was, she’d seen that Jesse was as much a victim as she.  The land was rightfully his, and she wouldn’t rest until he’d legally regained ownership.

Okay, I can kinda see that, too.  Seriously, I can see that it seems to her that this is the right thing to do and what Jesus would do and so forth.

“But you’ve lived there in good faith and made the land productive.  Even if the courts decide in his favor, he could be forced to pay you for all the improvements you’ve made, for the tree stock, etc.” [said her lawyer]

Hey, YEAH.

Or no.  Whatever.  Lindsey just wants to skip town, find a new job, move in with her sister, whatever.

Guess she’s also taken Clarence’s discussion of “rights” to heart.

In fact, she decides to track down Jesse and tell him personally that she’s not going to pursue her own rights.

Jesus (and Clarence) would no doubt want it that way.

Harboring unforgiveness would destroy her relationship with Jesus.

Damn, Lindsey, this happened yesterday.  Does Jesus really expect you to forgive in under 24 hours?

***

She gets to Jesse’s trailer park, and sees him loading his shit into his FINE CHEVROLET SILVERADO, and quite naturally comes to the conclusion that he is getting ready to move into her house like right now.

So she confronts him and makes him feel how much he is wrong, gorammit.

“I would never keep something that isn’t rightfully mine, Jesse.  You didn’t have to pretend to love me in order to get the farm back.”

OH SNAP

Hell, he deserves it.  Mostly because he was too stupid to put a stop to all this when he had the chance.

Jesse is utterly confused by this (big surprise, right?).  So he has to set the record straight and tell her that he didn’t pretend to love her and plans to leave and hopes she’ll forgive him.

“The place means nothing to me without you there.”

Tears shoved at the back of his eyelids.

Bawww…

And so, just like that, they make up and go home to the farm.

That was…quick.

Don’t get me wrong—I am no fan of the long, overly-drawn-out misunderstanding.

But damn, that was quick.

Oh, and they apologize to each other.  Meaning that Jesse apologizes for lying to her from the start, and Lindsey apologizes for…

“…all that happened to you as a boy.  For my unwitting part in forcing you to take such drastic measures.”

“Jesse, I am so sorry that I inherited this farm and forced you to plot against me and lie to me for weeks.  I am a horrible person.”

Huh.  And here I am so used to the women being awful in these stories.  Now, granted, this is yet another story where the man has to change while the woman gets to stay just as she is.  But Jesse needs to change.

By a factor of several dozen IQ points.

***

Christmas morning, and it is established that Lindsey and Jesse are going to share the farm.

THANK GOODNESS.  Seriously, I thought Jesse would end up with the farm wholly in his name.

“Christmas isn’t about presents to me, Jesse.  It’s about loving and giving, the way God gave us Jesus.”

Phew.  For a minute there, I forgot this was a Christian Christmas romance.

And it’s really super-sweet.  Jesse proposes, and both he and Jade get down on one knee.

The sweetness of the picture overwhelmed [Lindsey].

Hey, I’ll be the judge of that.

“…will you make our family complete and marry us?  Will you be my wife?”  Jesse slid the dainty solitaire onto her finger.

“And will you be my other mommy?”

Ohhh…

THAT IS SO SWEET

Awww…

So Jesse wants to get married like NOW, but Lindsey is all, “Ooo, but I wanted a Christmas wedding,” and I am like, “Well, fine, little princess.”

But then!

“Problem solved.” [said Jesse]  “According to a very famous song, there are really twelve days of Christmas.  So there you have it.  Christmas begins today and won’t end until we’re married twelve days from now.”  He squinted hopefully.  “Okay?”

Wow.  That is actually…an awesome idea.

And it is Jesse’s idea.  He has knowledge and turned it into an actual plan!

IT’S A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE!!!

film (10346) Animated Gif on Giphy

So they’re going to get married on January 5th, under the trees at the farm, which is also quite sweet.

One more “Thank You, Jesus,” and we’re out!

Well then.

That was certainly a significant change from Christmas Town.  A pretty bearable heroine, and a not-very-likeable hero with…well…

And a child who wasn’t an acquisitive, smarmy brat!

It truly is a miracle.

And that concludes our 2013 Wintermas program.  A little New Year’s surprise is in the works, and then we will return to Paul Stepola’s epic quest to lie to his wife for as long as humanly possible.

Merry Wintermas, all.  Thanks for being here!

You guys are…like family to me.

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ItSo…C: Chapter 14

A few days later, Jesse, whose heart has grown three sizes and embraced Christmas, suggests an afternoon of shopping.  So it seems he has also embraced the commercial aspects of Christmas-with-a-Capital-C.

Although I appreciate that Jesse is “almost” enjoying this, and really mostly doing it for Lindsey, who apparently wants to buy expensive gifts (along the lines of “some kind of computer software box,” by which I assume is meant a video game) for each child at church.

Damn, tree farm’s doing well for itself, I guess.

(I would be wierded out if a neighbor woman I only knew casually bought a not-trinket gift for my kid.  But again, this may be a Thing that I’ve missed out on, not having a “church family.”)

Jesse has a chance to ruminate on what a dick his stepfather was. (Or is, I guess.  Is the guy dead or just Not Around?)

He’d gotten [sports stuff as Christmas gifts] before his mother had become ill.  Those last two years before she died, he’d received nothing.  Les Finch wasn’t much of a shopper.  Reason enough for him to do better.

Poor little guy…

Oliver Twist

Though this does shed (a small amount of) light on the situation.  The Christmas Curse claimed Jesse’s mom after a long illness, not a sudden accident, like his wife.  And Jesse’s mom was so sick that she couldn’t even get gifts for her son.

So, the questions remain.  How does Jesse know the tree farm is his?  Did his mom make a will?  Some kind of heart-wrenching deathbed bequeathal?  WILL WE EVER KNOW???

But despite his Scrooge/Mr. Bumble/Grinch stepfather (btw, it’s interesting that everyone keeps calling Jesse a “Scrooge,” it’s really Evil Stepfather who better fit that bill), Jesse has FINALLY come to a decision:

Over the last few days, he’d spent a lot of time praying for answers about the Christmas Tree Farm, but the continual nag of doubt and worry plagued him yet.  He had a right to that farm.  He must have said that to the Lord a hundred times.

Hurting Lindsey was wrong, regardless of his true claim to the land.

Loving Lindsey, in the way God intended man to love woman, meant doing what was best for her.  As Christ loved the church, so man should love his wife.  Jesse wasn’t sure why he remembered the verse, but he was sure it came from the Bible.

The farm belonged to her.  She was the heart and soul of that place.  He’d wondered what to give her for Christmas and now he knew.  Even though she would never be aware of the secret gift, relinquishing his quest for the farm was the best present he could give.

He would never again harass the pathetic old lawyer, Stuart Hardwick, to confess.  And most of all, he would never hurt Lindsey by telling her of his original reasons for coming to the farm.  She didn’t ever need to know that the Christmas Tree Farm legally belonged to him.

Citation needed still.  Also, why didn’t he think of this earlier???

He would find another way to provide well for Jade—and for Lindsey, if she’d have him.  He had skills.  He could work for any electric outlet in the area.

Wait, what?  Lindsey needed help at the farm in the first place.  That’s why she hired him.  Why wouldn’t they just run the farm together?

I am still so confused.

But overall, good decision, Jesse.  About gorram time, too.

***

But I doubt it will come as a surprise to anyone that it is all for naught.

But one day later, Lindsey is interrupted in her gift wrapping by the sheriff, who brings tidings of great grief, which shall be to all people:

“Here’s the upshot, Lindsey.  This eighty acres belonged to a woman name of Madelyn Finch.  She inherited it from her grandparents.  When she died, her husband, Les Finch, hired a lawyer name of Hardwick to help him gain ownership of the place.

The woman’s will was clear.”

WAIT

There was a will???  All this time, there was a “clear” will???

THEN WHY WAS JESSE WASTING HIS GORRAM TIME TRYING TO SHAKE DOWN THE ATTORNEY???

Jesse, you goldfish!

“Somehow Hardwick and Finch forged the boy’s name on the sale papers.”

The legal community in this…um, community…FRAKKING SUCKS.

Lindsey still doesn’t know “the boy” is Jesse.

“Does he know about this? … He’s filed a claim to regain possession?”

“Yes, ma’am.  He’s the one stirred things up after all this time.”

Yeah, why did Jesse wait so long?

And, also, Jesse what is wrong with you?  You filed the claim, then, what, forgot to withdraw it after your change of heart???

transparent swimming gif

“Your hired hand should have told you this himself, Lindsey.  He’s Madelyn Finch’s son, the rightful owner of this land.”

Ouch.

There is much talk in romance novel circles of the Big Misunderstanding, which would, of course, be settled with a simple conversation.  But here, I can hardly blame Lindsey for jumping to the conclusions that Jesse was playing her from the start (he was), and pretended to love her to get closer to the truth (he wasn’t).

And (again, quite naturally) she blames herself for falling for another handsome guy who just ended up hurting her.

And apparently, Jesse is doing work on the farm while Lindsey wraps gifts.  And he gets a “bad feeling” when he gets near to the house and sees the sheriff there.

“Oh, yeah, that little legal matter that I forgot to actually deal with!”

The sheriff leaves the house and catches Jesse on his way back to it.

“…I have to explain.”

“Explain what?  That you came here under false pretenses, looking for information—“

—when you had a perfectly good a “clear” will, dammit!

Sorry to interrupt.

“—that would take this farm and return it to you?  That you’ve been dishonest with her from the start?”

This is gorram good sense, and Jesse, to give him credit where it’s due, he feels just as bad as he should.

In fact, he decides to chuck it all, grab Jade, and skip town, leaving the farm safely with Lindsey.

Seems a bit of an overreaction, but somehow I can’t blame him.

ItSo…C: Chapter 13

I didn’t give a crap about Nathan’s disappearance last year, since he was an entitled, acquisitive, obnoxious little brat (not that I’m judging!), and we knew he would be okay, but Jade is younger and much less annoying.  Then again, I know she’ll be okay, too.  If there’s one thing I cannot imagine a Christian romance novel doing, it’s killing the adorable child right before Christmas.

It’s kinda interesting to compare the two missing child scenarios in the two Steeple Hill books.  In Christmas Town, the entire stupid town got in on the search for stupid Nathan.  Senile old men even threw their weight around, making sure “the sheriff understood the importance of this small boy.”

This time around…

…Winding Stair was a small town manned by one police officer per shift.  By the time the officer rounded up a search party, morning would be here.

So Jesse and Lindsey search for Jade on their own, and they split up.  And after three hours of fruitless searching, Jesse is understandably desperate.  Now, in Christmas Town, the desperate parent was already a Christian, but is so distraught that non-Christian (yet) Jordan has to pray for her.  Which he does, because Jordan rocks, and I wish him many candy canes this year for his tummy.

But Jesse gasps out some very heart-wrenching prayers, and shows that, like so many heroes and heroines of Christian fiction who come to the faith, he is an unchurched Christian at heart, not an atheist:

“Lord, I know you’re up there watching.  I’ve always believed You were real, but I don’t know you very well.  Not like Lindsey and Clarence do.  I have no right to ask favors, but maybe You’ll do this one thing for Jade.  Help me find her, Lord.  Show me where she is.”

“Was it me, Lord?  Have I done something so bad that everyone I love gets taken away?  Mama and Erin are gone.  Don’t take Jade.  I’ll do anything.  Anything.”

“I’ll do anything to break the Christmas Curse!  Please don’t take another woman from my family at Christmastime, God!  Surely you of all people can help me destroy this dark magic!”

And so, having “completed the transaction,” as LaJenkins would say, Jesse continues his search with “a Friend to guide him.”  I have never seen anyone capitalize the F in “friend” when talking about Jesus.  Is that a thing?

Sadly, the search continues until dawn, which means Jade has been out in the elements for maybe TEN HOURS, which is legit freaky.  (We aren’t told exactly when Jade disappeared, but it was full dark and there were no customers.)

FINALLY, he hears animal sounds and a gunshot, which he follows to find Jade with Sushi standing over her, and Lindsey with her gun.

Put these pieces together, Scooby Gang.  What happened???

I can’t (entirely) blame Jesse for thinking Sushi was attacking Jade (he’s a goldfish after all, and although Sushi has never displayed the slightest violent tendency, Jesse has been up all night and panicked).  But it (of course) turns out that Sushi had been guarding Jade all night, and the animal sounds and gunshot were, respectively, Sushi growling at some coyotes that had just shown up, and Lindsey arriving to scare them off completely with her gun.

And why, you may ask, did Jade run off in the first place?

Jade pointed at the sky.  Her knit gloves were dirty and loaded with bits of grass and twigs.

“I wanted the star.”

Lindsey appeared as puzzled as [Jesse].  “What star, Jade?”

“The falling star.  For Daddy.”  She cupped a hand over her mouth and leaned toward Lindsey.  In a conspiratorial whisper, she said, “For a present.  So he would like Christmas again.”

A lump filled Jesse’s throat.  Jade had ventured into the dark and frightening night alone to capture a shooting star for him.  To make him happy.”

Awwww, that is so CUTE…

Wait, WHY???

Where did Jade get this cockamamie idea?  Is this another weird not-actually-Biblical idea that Lindsey has stuck inside Jade’s head, like the idea that every human has a personal guardian angel?  Give someone a falling star and he’ll like Christmas?

Or has Lindsey just introduced Jade to Perry Como?

But even if she has, the song doesn’t say anything about falling stars making people like Christmas.

I don’t get it.

But I guess that’s okay, since Jade and Sushi are now bonded.  And Jesse apologizes to Lindsey and Sushi and tells Lindsey that “God and I had a long talk” and that God was apparently “waiting for me to make the first move.”  (Oh, woooowwwwwww…)

Oh, and he tells Lindsey that he loves her.

All this is taking place out in the woods where Jade has spent the night.  You’d think Priority One would be getting her to a hospital after being out in the woods all night, but no…

“Time to get you and the butterbean back to the house.”

“Time to go to work,” she argued, but didn’t move from her place in his arms.  “Customers won’t wait, no matter how tired we are.”

Customers.  All night, he’d been so preoccupied with finding his daughter that he hadn’t thought of the long day ahead.

Wow.  What a jerk, right?  How weird that he would prioritize finding his child alive over selling Christmas trees.

And I’d say, again, that it’s time to take Jade to the hospital.  She’s been in the December elements all night.  But apparently, she’s bouncing around, so what do I know?

Oh, and Jesse remembers something else:

The situation with the farm and his rightful ownership tried to press in, but Jesse shoved the thoughts away.  Right now, he wanted to bask in all the good things that had come from this strange night.  Today he was happy to love and be loved.  He’d worry about his dilemma some other time.

Meh, he’s waited eighteen years already.  Why not just wait the rest of his life?

I’m serious.  They get married and the farm is his again (if it ever was to begin with).  What he got to worry about now?

But that’s our Jesse, I guess!

ItSo…Christmas: Chapter 12

It’s Sunday, which we all know is good for only one thing, and that is GOING TO CHURCH, but Jesse doesn’t go to church, though he is having a crisis of conscience, so he does the next best thing: he goes to see the old man, Clarence, who was helping (and failing) with the church’s Christmas lights a few chapters ago.

Jesse might well think that Clarence is a wise old Hermit Guru, because Clarence is the guy who clued Jesse in to the fact that people have two sets of grandparents.

Despite everything that’s happened, here is where Goldfish Jesse still stands on the whole issue:

The only way to avoid more suffering on the part of everyone involved was to bring the situation to its rightful end.  He’d give [Drunken Lawyer] one more opportunity to come clean and then he’d find his own lawyer and go to the sheriff.  The story could break out into the open soon and Lindsey could discover the truth about him.

Yes, discovering that he was angling to steal her home out from under her for all these weeks will be a great way to “avoid more suffering,” Jesse.

He wished he’d never met Lindsey Mitchell.

No. That wasn’t true.  He wished she didn’t live on the property that belonged to him.

Citation needed, Jesse.  I’m still not convinced this property is yours.

This is no small point by this time.  Where is Jesse’s mom’s will?  Did she even have one?  Is this all in Jesse’s head?  Did he take some offhand remark by his mom (“This is your home, too, sweetie.”) and blow it out of proportion for all these years?  Won’t it be difficult for Jesse to find a lawyer to take this case, especially in this bitsy town that probably has only one lawyer anyway, and where everyone “looks after their own,” especially the church members?

Well, Jesse certainly has a lot to think about (though not, again, all the ramifications and details that he might think about), so he goes to have a chat with Clarence.

He catches the man on his way out the door to church, and really, Jesse?  This couldn’t have waited until the afternoon?  Clarence’s wife even has to go to church without him.

But it’s okay, because “The Lord has a reason for you showing up on my doorstep on Sunday morning.”

This makes sense to Jesse:

Maybe others made this trek up the mountain to seek wisdom from the old guy.

And what wisdom it is…

“Jesus is the best friend you’ll ever have.  And he’s always there to listen to your troubles and to help you work out the answers.”

He’s no Chochem, but he’ll have to do.

Jesse, unsurprisingly, doesn’t reveal his whole plot to Clarence, but instead speaks in riddles:

“But doesn’t a man have a right to do what he believes is best? … Shouldn’t I fight for what I know is rightfully mine?”

Seriously, except for the “problem” has something “to do with Lindsey,” these are the only facts Jesse provides.

But Clarence has the RTC playbook, he does!

“Rights.  We sure hear a lot about people’s rights these days.”

Pfft, rights.  What have rights ever done for us?!?  Hell, last time someone talked about rights in this town, boy, we almost had our public-school Christmas pageant turned into some librul-commie “holiday” celebration, and this ain’t Trapper Falls, Alaska, son!

Clarence offers to pray with Jesse, but Jesse turns him down.  Ha!

***

Back at the ranch tree farm, that evening, Lindsey theorizes about the ways of God.  Sorta.

Maybe Jesse and Jade had been sent for her to help them find the healing they needed.  Maybe she’d been meant to love them back to health and then to let them go.  She didn’t know.

Man, life must be so stressful when you constantly have to assess the Meaning of each new person you meet.

And we have a new tradition for Wintermas romances: Missing Children!

Remember when stupid Nathan ran off to find his erstwhile (and FAT) father?  Well, now Jade has run off, too.  To give Actually Not That Bad Where It’s Due, Jade is a few years younger than Nathan, and Lindsey keeps a much better eye on her than Joella did on Nathan (who, if you remember, ran all around town with zero supervision, hauling canned chili to squatters).

I was a bit afraid that Jesse would pull a Dickish Alpha Male routine and blame Lindsey for Jade’s disappearance, since she was the last person to see her.  But it is established that Lindsey watched Jade run to the barn to find Jesse, and Jesse isn’t a dick about that at all.

What he is a dick about, is the dog.

See, they can’t find Sushi, either, and Jesse assumes that the dog scared Jade and chased her into the woods.

“Sushi is not a danger.  She wouldn’t harm anyone unless they threatened me.  Jade was even beginning to accept her company.” [said Lindsey]

“And maybe that wasn’t a good thing.  If you hadn’t forced the situation, Jade wouldn’t have felt she had to accept the dog to please you.”

Ouch.  So, Jesse, your plan was to have Jade be terrified of all dogs for the rest of her life?  Swell idea.

Hurt pierced her like a sharp nail.  “That’s not true.  Jade knew I was trying to help her.”

“Yeah?  Well, look where that got us.”  He jerked around and stalked off into the darkness, calling back over his shoulder.  “I mean it, Lindsey.  That dog is dead if she’s harmed my daughter.”

Okay, dickish, sure, but I also quite like this tense little conversation.  It seems very much like the bitter recriminations that people would throw around when they’re panicked like this.

Like Nathan’s little escapade last year, this chapter ends on a cliffhanger.

Where did Jade go?  (Unlike Nathan, she has not had some stupid kid plan cooking for an entire book.)

Did Sushi hurt her?  (Yeah, right.)

Stay tuned!  Three chapters to go!  (I will get through this book by Christmas.  Oh yes, I will.)

ItSo…C: Chapter 10 and Chapter 11

After the Christmas play, Jesse, Lindsey, and Jade go out on what is essentially a date: dinner at the local “Dairy Cup,” complete with romantic music from the jukebox (Jade’s pick).  Lindsey feels sparks, and Jesse talks about Christmas Town Winding Stair:

 “The place grows on you, that’s for sure.” [said Jesse]

“Sure would be a great place to raise a kid—in your house—DAMMIT, SHUT UP!  STUPID, STUPID, STUPID!”

She wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but at least he hadn’t criticized her beloved town.  Small, provincial and backwoods it might be, but Winding Stair took care of its own.

A fact Jesse might want to keep right in the front of his mind.  Small, insular, and backwards it might be, but they take care of their own church members when they’re not gossiping about them behind their backs.

***

The very next day, Jesse combines a delivery trip with another piece of his plot: he tracks down the crooked (and, of course, drunk) lawyer.  This should be interesting.  Finally, an explanation for all this!

Jesse handed over the form his stepfather had signed, making the sale of Jesse’s farm valid.

“Eighteen years ago my mother died, leaving her parents’ farm to me.  My stepfather, Les Finch, somehow managed to sell the place, claiming ownership.”

“What’s that got to do with me?” [asked Drunken Lawyer]

“Someone smarter about legal and business affairs than Les had to do the paperwork.”

“I want you to tell the truth.  Confess that you helped Les Finch figure out a way to forge my mother’s name to forms that gave him ownership.”

“Whoa now, boy.  You’re accusing me of a crime.”

The old hypocrite.  He had committed a crime, probably more than one.

Um, okay.  I guess.  I’m sorry, I’m still having a hard time with this.  I know we’re supposed to trust Jesse that he’s telling the truth, and hate the evil lawyer, who is obviously lying because he’s an alcoholic, but–

Where were the damn cops?  Where was child services?  This happened in 1987, not 1887.

For that matter, where was Jesse?  I get that as a teenager, he was relatively powerless, but why not try to get back his farm two years ago or six years ago?  Did he not want his home for Erin?  For Jade when she was a baby?  Why not fight for his “right” before now?

Indeed, Drunken Lawyer seems to legit not remember the transaction.

Jesse just barely manages to avoid hitting the guy:

“Listen, old man, Les Finch stole everything I owned, moved me off to an unfamiliar city, and then tossed me out like a stray dog when I was barely fifteen.  Scared, alone, heartbroken, hungry.  Do you know what that’s like?” He slammed his fists together.  “That’s never going to happen to my little girl.  Never.”

The more Jesse talks, the less sense he makes.  I don’t see how moving to another city had anything to do with anything about selling the farm.  Was it really worth so much that Les could afford to go to a whole other town, then illegally sell the farm (and I still don’t see any evidence that the sale was illegal), then toss the kid out?

If Jesse knew the house was his, why didn’t he tell someone?  I know he was just a kid, but he was apparently savvy enough to know the house was his.  Did his mother tell him it was, accurately or not?  How did his mother die, anyway?  Did she have a will?  If not, why would her signature have to be forged, as Jesse alleges?  Was the signature forged?  I’m sorry, but I just don’t have enough evidence to even be on Jesse’s side yet.

SO MANY QUESTIONS

It all ends with Drunken Lawyer promising to contact Jesse if he remembers any details of the transaction.  (After all, it has been eighteen years, which again raises the point: why did Jesse wait so long to settle this?)

And Jesse heads off to actually do his job and deliver the Christmas trees, and he convinces the guy to think about getting all the trees for his lot from Lindsey.  Jesse is just pleased as punch about this, until he gets back into his truck and remembers that by next year, he’ll have thrown Lindsey out on her ass.

Memory of a goldfish, this one.

***

A few days later, Jesse suggests that the three of them take nighttime wagon ride, for no reason at all, which is terribly romantic and sweet and everything, and they have a little kissy after Jade falls asleep.  Then, things take a turn for a different type of seriousness, as they talk about Jade.  Turns out Jade has been asking lots of questions about her own mother and death.  Although Lindsey kindly keeps from Jade the secret of the Christmas Curse under which she was born, she puts the child’s mind at ease regarding death (because Erin is now living in God’s house, natch).

They’re also making a memory book together, which is quite sweet, but when does Lindsey get all this free time with Jade but without Jesse?  Aren’t they running a tree farm together?

Jesse has yet more guilt pangs…

He cared about her.

…but not enough to stop his plans.

He cared a lot and didn’t want ever to see her hurt.  And hurting her would be the ultimate end of their relationship.

OH GEE, DO YOU FRAKKING THINK SO, GENIUS???

Memory of a goldfish, brain of one, too.

randers regnskov fishy grunge gif

ItSo…C: Chapter 9

Oh, how worlds collide.

Jade gets cast in the “Christmas program” at her (public) school, playing an angel.

The conclusion of the play was traditionally a nativity scene with the singing of “Silent Night” by the entire audience.  Once there had been talk of removing the religious scene from the school, but such an outcry arose that the tradition remained.  The town loved it, expected it, and turned out en masse to see the little ones dressed in sparkly, colorful costumes.

MITCH BRIGHT, WHERE ARE YOU WHEN WE NEED YOU???

See, worlds collide.

The play also sounds boring as shit, being as it is the same every year.  Also, I’m not sure Bethlehem was known for its sparkly clothes.

Naturally, this all means that Jade’ll need a costume, and I guess she’d be just SOL if she didn’t have her father’s employer to make one for her.

But Jesse, who has apparently been an asshole all day even before this went down, is having none of it.  First, he puts Jade off by saying Lindsey is too busy to do it.  Then when Lindsey insists, he tells her:

“You’re not her mother.  Stop trying to be.”

OH.

SNAP.

Well, fine, asshole.  From now on, you can make breakfast for your own kid every morning; how’s that suit you?

To be totally fair, the colossal dickhead apologizes immediately, but then he pulls the old, guilt-trippy, passive-aggressive, I-told-you-not-to-do-something-but-now-I’ve-changed-my-mind-so-DO-IT-I-mean-do-whatever-you-want trick, leaving Lindsey confused and distraught, and who can blame her?

But he apologizes again, which is good, and acknowledges his own jerkitude, and for some reason, this starts a conversation about how God loves us all and forgives us all.

Jesse says that he may not deserve God’s love, and not everyone is as good as she, Lindsey, is.

But Lindsey is a sinner, too.  Oh yes, she is.

“I trusted the wrong man, telling myself that love made our actions all right. …But that was a mistake.  He was a mistake.”

“That’s right, Jesse, I’m such a horrible sinner that I had sex with the man I was engaged to marry.  The depth of my depravity is almost unbelievable.”

Is it just me, or does this sound like Lindsey is saying that her great sin is in loving and trusting her fiancé too much?

Again, worlds collide:

But the main problem here is that this form of humble-bragging never works. It’s never convincing, this faux self-deprecation that carefully crafts what it’s willing to be deprecating about. Rather than inoculating against the charge of arrogance by humbly admitting faults, it reinforces the perception of arrogance by revealing an unwillingness to be honest about such faults.

The one place I’m sure you’ve heard this before, if you’re a church-goer, is from a preacher on a Sunday morning.

Sometimes it comes from a preacher who’s attempting to do the same thing Jenkins is attempting here — humanizing himself (usually him) by admitting to some minor or generic “flaw.” “I lose my patience in traffic,” the preacher says, as though confessing his worst sin. The unwillingness to admit to anything more meaningful — or the inability to recognize anything more meaningful — undermines the whole attempt to display humility. ”Sometimes I’m ill-tempered,” he says,  as though this sets him apart. And then, you realize that what he’s really suggesting is that he’s more extravagantly remorseful that everyone else — that his guilt over such minor failings sets him apart from, and above, others.

Just this past week at Slacktiverse!

Also, I have a feeling that Lindsey might not think her sin of Loving Not Wisely, But Too Well would be as big a deal if she knew Jesse was plotting to steal her home right from under her.  Some sins are, in fact, bigger than others.

***

Fast-forward a bit, and Jesse tries to get out of even going to the performance (which seems a bridge too far, even for a “Scrooge” like him), and Lindsey scolds him into it, and they go together, natch, and they hold hands when Jade is on stage.

It’s all magical and Christmassy, at least until some guy vaguely recognizes Jesse from when they were kids.  Jesse laughs it off, but it just goes to show that the nefarious scheme is still in place, no matter how many breakfasts Lindsey cooks or angel costumes she makes.

Jesse, you suck.

hit with pillow

ItSo…C: Chapter 8

Jesse has taken yet another afternoon off (in the middle of a very busy day at the tree farm, but oh well).

Then he’d spent hours in the courthouse and on the telephone, leaking out bits of himself to strangers in exchange for information about his stepfather.

Dude.  PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR.  Get you one.

One conversation had given him the name of a backwoods lawyer who’d been around eighteen years ago.  A lawyer with a drinking problem who’d been known to do “buddy deals.”

Damn.  As depizan notes, this story is rife with drunks.  Drunk stepfather and drunk lawyer engage in drunken deal, after which drunk driver kills the hero’s wife.

Preacher Cliff whatever-his-name-was” (this is how Jesse thinks of him!) arrives at Jesse’s home, seeking help with the church’s Christmas display.  (Jesse has a background in electricity.)  No, I don’t think Cliff is planning on compensating non-church-member Jesse for his assistance in any way.

But Jesse keeps his eyes on the prize.  Two guys who are also trying (unsuccessfully) to work the lights are there.  One of them might have known Drunk Lawyer.  The other guy, Mick…

…wasn’t one of those preachy kind of Christians who didn’t know how to get his hands dirty.  And their common interest in horses might someday lead to friendship.  He’d need a friend when he regained the land that Lindsey now called home.

Yeah, as I’ve mentioned before, I think Jesse is kidding himself if he thinks having one or two pals in town will get him any appreciative amount of goodwill when he righteously kicks a church member out of her home.  Especially a single young woman who lives there all alone.

So, Jesse heads over to hang some tinsel and further his nefarious scheme:

He was surprised to find himself here, at a church.  Not that he didn’t believe in God, but part of him wondered if God believed in him.

At least Linda Goodnight isn’t giving herself the near-impossible task of convincing us that an actual atheist, an true nonbeliever, could be turned simply by experiencing the Magic of the Season (TM).

The older man indeed turns out to be a chatterbox and font of information:

“Lindsey thought a lot of her Grandma and Grandpa Mitchell.” [Jesse flipped the main breaker to the off position.

“Mitchell?”  Clarence stared up at him, puzzled for a moment.  “You mean Baker, not Mitchell.  Mitchell was the other side of the family.  I never knew them.”

Wait a sec…

No wonder [Jesse had] had such a hard time finding data.  He’d been looking under the wrong name.

WAIT.  So Jesse has been playing amateur detective all this time, and it never occurred to him that people have two sets of grandparents???

Jesse, honey?  This task is quite clearly well beyond your limitations.  This is the point when you really, really need to get professionals involved.  Professionals who realize that members of the same family do not all have the same name.

Jesse also thinks about how his stepfather “had never owned the farm,” but I still don’t see why not.

Old Chatterbox keeps right on going, talking about Lindsey and how awesome she is.  (Danger, danger, Jesse Slater!  Do not screw over someone so beloved by this tiny insular town!  You are no Mitch Bright!  You do not have the skills necessary for such a task!)

Old Chatterbox engages in some old-fashioned Christian gossip, helpfully filling in Jesse on matters that are the business of neither of them, regarding Lindsey’s broken heart.

Turns out Lindsey’s former fiancé knocked up another girl while Lindsey was “away making money for the wedding.”

Thanks for sharing, Old Dude.  I’m sure Lindsey will be fine with you gossiping about this very sensitive matter with her own employee.

But it’s okay, since Lindsey “has the Lord.”  Old guy muses:

“I don’t know how folks that don’t know the Lord get by when hard times come.”

Meh, I’m fine, thanks for asking.  Actually, when hard times come to me, it helps to know that no god is standing idly by, doing nothing while I struggle.  But that’s just me.

In the dim recesses of his mind, the thought occurs to Jesse that Lindsey is once again going to be hurt by a man she trusts.

Oh well.

***

Two days later, and turns out Jesse fixed the lights for the church.

Oh, it’s true.  It’s damn true.  (That Pastor Kurt Angle didn’t pay Jesse for the work.)

And Lindsey has a very realistic moment: she thinks that between Jesse’s thoughts about his dead wife and about God, there’s too much between them for there to be romance.  Thus, the closer she feels to him, the sadder she gets.

Ralph V day

Jesse notices how sad Lindsey is and tries to cheer her up with thoughts of expansion and gift shops and stuff.  He mentions “a Website for the farm and using the Internet for free marketing.”  Aww, the early aughts.

Of course, these ideas take on quite the level of cruelty when you consider that Jesse anticipates having the farm in his own hands by next year.  He sortakinda admits this, though he doesn’t think the word “cruel”:

That’s the way it had to be.  Justice would be served.  He’d have his home…and his revenge.

“Yeah!  That’ll show my evil, drunken stepfather…who has apparently disappeared off the face of the earth or is dead—SHUT UP!”

Oh, and it turns out that in the two days since he learned that people have more than two grandparents, Jesse…

…had easily found the information he needed…the crooked lawyer had done the deal.

Now that a clerk knew he was searching for Lindsey’s farm records, it was only a matter of time before word leaked out and Lindsey knew his intent.

Ha!  I love that Jesse assumes that the entire town will be gossiping about this before the week is out.  Considering his conversation with Old Chatterbox, this is hardly an unreasonable thought.

Jesse, man, you are just not up to this task.  Sorry.

I’m also sorry because I look forward to Wintermas as a time when we see likeable heroes (even if the authors did not intend them that way).  Mitch Bright, Jordan Scoville, even pre-conversion Tim Douten.  But…Jesse is kinda dumb and a jerk.  Sigh.  I guess they can’t all be winners.

In the Spirit of…Christmas

Lindsey made the introductions.  “This is my pastor, Cliff Wilson.”

Jesse’s surprise must have shown because the clergyman bellowed a cheerful laugh.  “If you were out killing preachers, you’d pass me right up, wouldn’t you?”

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6 & Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10 & Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15 & Epilogue

ItSo…C: Chapter 6 & Chapter 7

After the last jump of a few weeks, we make a jump of…overnight…into this chapter.  The day after the tea party/dinner, Lindsey enlists Jesse’s help to start the Christmas decorations.  Probably makes sense, since it’s presumably about the middle of November.

Jesse is starting to fall for Lindsey and is grateful for what she did yesterday with Jade, and he says so.

About Jade, I mean, not about falling for her.  😉

Jesse mentions that Jade has not stopped talking about her “guarding angel.”

“I hope you didn’t mind me telling her.” [said Lindsey]

No, of course not, Lindsey.  Please continue instilling supernatural beliefs in my child behind my back.

He hitched a shoulder, not wanting to go there.

Interesting that it’s put like that.  Why shouldn’t he go there?  It’s his kid they’re talking about.  He has much more right to “go there” than Lindsey does.  Or does he just not want to make waves when he’s scheming to get her thrown off her own property?

“It’s okay.  Whatever works.”  [said Jesse]

Lindsey laid a hand on his arm.  “The Bible works because it’s true, Jesse,” she said, her smoky voice soft.  “Aren’t you comforted knowing your own special angel watches over you?”

Huh.  I dunno.  I mean, I’ve read the Bible, just like Kirk Cameron told me, and I don’t remember anything about every person on the planet getting their very own, personal guardian angel.

Open Bible has collected a bunch of Bible verses ostensibly dealing with guardian angels, though none of these verses say outright that everyone has a personal angel.  Hell, even Billy Graham isn’t behind this.  (And if you can’t trust him, who can you trust?)

Lindsey’s words make Jesse think for a minute, including about how he…

…had even accepted Jesus as his savior at church camp when he was twelve…

…but for him, it all comes back to theodicy.

But why would a caring God, a God who assigned each person an angel, take a man’s wife and leave a little girl motherless?  Why would He allow a vicious drunk to steal a boy’s home and toss him out on the streets to fend for himself?  Where was God in that?

Gorram good question.  Also, where were the police?

Of course, people of all faiths regularly assure one another that God is not responsible for human suffering.  But how else can we understand the claim that God is both omniscient and omnipotent?  This is the age-old problem of theodicy, of course, and we should consider it solved.  If God exists, either he can do nothing to stop the most egregious calamities, or He does not care to.  God, therefore, is either impotent or evil.  You may now be tempted to execute the following pirouette: God cannot be judged by human standards of morality.  But we have seen that human standards of morality are precisely what you use to establish God’s goodness in the first place.  And any God who would concern Himself with something so trivial as gay marriage, or the name by which he is addressed in prayer, is not so incruable as all that.

Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 55

I wonder what argument Lindsey will use in the face of a loving God who would take away a small child’s mother.  I wonder if she will even address it.

For the moment, she is ruminating on the fact that she is falling for Jesse, and she cannot, of course, be unequally yoked.  But also…

As a Christian, she wanted to see him happy.

What, because if she wasn’t a Christian, she wouldn’t want to see him happy?  Weird.

Indeed, “she wanted to provide a shining example of Christ’s love,” but she’s all torn up inside because he’s super-dreamy.

***

Fast-forward to Thanksgiving, and Lindsey invites Jesse and Jade over for dinner, because they have nowhere else to go, and her family is all far away.  There’s all kinds of tenderness and cuteness as they have a very traditional Thanksgiving dinner, so there’s not much to say here.  Lindsey does another prayer, this time with holding of hands, and Jesse, once again, does not talk along or say “amen.”

Jade shows that she has made progress on the dog front, actually asking that Sushi be in the same room as the three of them, though she still wants to stay pretty far away.

And on the Lindsey’s toys front, turns out Lindsey has a whole room holding toys and games for her Sunday school kids, including a whole friggn’ playhouse.  Now that’s gotta be over the top.

Then the really official Moment of Heartwarming happens, as a family arrives to get an early Christmas tree.  See, the dad is shipping out for the unspecified “Middle East” tomorrow, so they want to decorate a tree tonight.  Which I guess is kinda sweet.

As they’re heading out to pick a tree, Jesse and Jade duck away and turn on the Christmas lights and music to complete the scene.

“Thank you for thinking of that.” [said Lindsey]

He shrugged off the compliment.  “Some people like this stuff.”

But you don’t.  What could have happened to turn Jesse into such a Scrooge?

But he…he just…

Yeah, lady, because Scrooge was well-known for decorating his place of business for the holidays, even though he wasn’t into it.

Seriously, what the what is going on in this woman’s head?

Who the hell knows?  But she gives the tree to the family for free.  Which is nice.

Indeed, after the family leaves, Lindsey tells Jesse that…

“I love to give trees to people like that.”

Jesse points out the obvious:

“You don’t make money giving them away.”

“No, but you create joy, and that’s worth so much more.”

Yeah, Lindsey, try making car payments with joy.

Jade is so psyched by the whole thing that she wants a Christmas tree, too, and Lindsey is all for it.

It’s been a fair few years since I’ve had a live tree, so I’m rusty on these things, but won’t a live tree be pretty dry and…well, done by Christmas if you take it home on Thanksgiving Day?

But it’s all moot, anyway, since Jade knows she can’t have one, since “Daddy hates Christmas.”  This, of course, forces The Big Christmas Talk, since, according to Lindsey, “there’s nothing too big for the Lord.”

Jade obediently wanders off, and Jesse tells Lindsey about his dead wife, Erin.  Erin was a Christian, and Jesse “tried to be one, too, when she was alive.”  As we guessed, Erin died at Christmastime, specifically on Christmas Eve, killed in a crash with a drunk driver when she went out to get the one last gift she had on layaway.

And the hits just keep on coming—she was getting a gift for him, and the crash happened only a few blocks from their house, so he ran there and saw his wife’s body—

Damn, son.

Even more sad is the way that Lindsey butts into Jesse’s reaction to the tragic situation like it’s any of her business.

“Don’t you want Jade to remember her mother?

When you refuse to let her have a Christmas tree, you’re telling her child’s mind to forget her mother and to forget all those wonderful times with her.”

Wow.  Judge much, lady?

So, what, the only good memories associated with a dead person must involve Christmas?

“That’s not true,” he denied vehemently.  “I’m protecting her.  I don’t want her to relive that terrible night every Christmas.”

“Are you talking about Jade?  Or yourself?”

Wow, real Christian sensitivity there, Lindsey.  Look, you don’t have to agree with the way Jesse handles Christmas.  You can even talk about it with him.  But like that?  With talk of making Jade forget her mother and Jesse only protecting himself?

Lindsey, you suck.

Oh, and she tops it all off with:

“You can’t allow your own pain to keep Jade from having a normal childhood.”

Though she very generously allows that Jesse is not doing this “intentionally.”  So she’s sensitive, see!

Also, lady, I think millions of kids around the world have normal childhoods without Christmas.  Not everyone has to be like you.

Sadly, Jesse’s “growing angst” gets the best of him, and he feels a “fierce longing to pray,” though he doesn’t actually do it.  And they go get a tree for Jade.

Lest I be misunderstood, I have no problem with Jesse changing his mind about Christmas and getting Jade a tree.  It’s just not cool how Lindsey’s going about it.  Not.  Cool.

But Jesse’s still struggling—in fact, he’s so miserable at the sight of the tree in his home that he puts it in Jade’s room.  And Jade loves that, so it’s all good.  Just don’t tell Lindsey, Jess!

We are left with Jesse going through heartache, and Jade praying to “thank Jesus for the tree and all my guarding angels.”

All?

Look, kid, you get one angel.  ONE.  That’s what Lindsey says.  Or the Bible.  Or something.

ItSo…C: Chapter 5

A week or two later, Jesse takes an afternoon off from work.  One guess where he went!

I kinda think we skipped right over Halloween into November, which is usually a big deal for kids around Jade’s age.  (Okay, maybe it’s a big deal for me, too.  Just sayin’.)  But as we discovered last year, you’re not allowed to do Halloween in Steeple Hill books.

So Lindsey is by herself when Jade is dropped off, which is confusing because Jesse said he’s pick her up from school.

Hmm…

Lindsey is apprised of the situation when Jade once again loses her shit at the sight of Sushi.  But Lindsey handles the situation FRAKKING BRILLIANTLY.

She calms the kid, then has her stand inside the house and look out the screen door as Lindsey plays with Sushi then runs her through a series of commands, showing Jade that the dog is both playful and obedient, and would never hurt her.  Jade seems to see the sense in this, though she’s not yet quite brave enough to pet Sushi.

Still, this is good stuff.  Actually Not That Bad, and only a few pages into the chapter.

Jade is still nervous, this time about where her daddy is.  This is understandable, and Lindsey redirects her like a good mom would, suggesting they have dress-up tea together.  She has a whole bunch of dress-up outfits (still a bit surprised by this—kiddie snack and kiddie drinks and coloring books and crayons and now, dress-up clothes).

It all goes swimmingly, and Lindsey urges Jade to say a prayer for Jesse that he’ll get safely home.  Lindsey expects Jade not to know how to pray, but Jade does.  Not to be outdone, Lindsey schools the child in the notion that every person in the world has his or her own guardian angel.

‘Kay, I guess.  Does everyone get their own spirit guide, too, Lindsey?

Jesse arrives shortly thereafter, pissed because he’s spent all afternoon at the courthouse and…

…hadn’t found a single reference to any transaction between Charles Mitchell and Les Finch.

I’m inclined to agree with depizan—it just seems at this point that Jesse is making things way more complicated than they should be.

Of course, he’s tying his own hands by not asking for help from the clerk.  Though this presents another problem—are the files in the courthouse, just sitting around so people can paw through them?  Wouldn’t the clerk already get a sense of what Jesse was up to, given the questions he would have to ask?  And why doesn’t he just hire a private detective, if he’s so worried about people wondering about him?

Bah.

Anyway, Jesse is guilt-stricken when Jade tells him she was afraid he was dead, like mommy.

Supernatural Dean

But Lindsey redirects again, and the three of them have dinner of sandwiches together.  I’ll cut short all the many details of this dinner, except to say:

1.  Jesse is directed by Jade to dress up for dinner, and he’s the kind of guy who will wear a boa and tiara for his little girl, which I greatly respect.

2.  Lindsey has them pray over dinner (which is fine by me, as it’s her house), and Jesse concludes that “playing the hypocrite for fifteen seconds hadn’t killed him” and he “hadn’t been bothered by the prayer.”  Um, good for him?  Is this supposed to be a sign that he’s moving towards Christianity?  Because I’ve never been “bothered” by prayers.

So, basically, this chapter keeps things pretty even, as far as I’m concerned—both Lindsey and Jesse do cool things, but Jesse is still kinda dumb and Lindsey is still kinda pushy.

And Christmas is coming, so Jesse will have plenty to be “bothered” by very soon!