|Winner Takes All
Author: SkinTheKat PM
Sequel to Changing Places. Gwen AND Theresa's POV. Both have given up on Ethan, but still despise each other and want to win. Will Theresa get Jane back? Will Ethan marry Theresa? Will Gwen find happiness with the man she loves? Feedback welcome!Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Gwen H. & Theresa L-F C. - Chapters: 29 - Words: 84,871 - Reviews: 82 - Favs: 16 - Follows: 12 - Updated: 05-26-12 - Published: 09-17-08 - id: 4543717
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"Hi, Samantha," Gwen smiled warmly at Tabitha's niece. "We haven't been formally introduced but I used to live in the boarding house next door to your aunt's boarding house. I'm Gwen Hotchkiss."
"I'm pleased to meet you, Gwen," Samantha responded in a British accent, similar to her Aunt Tabitha's. "Where do you live now?"
"I moved to Boston," Gwen answered and the two had a pleasant discussion about Boston and its many amenities for several minutes.
The doorbell rang and Pilar opened it to a husband and wife team who had worked closely with Chris Boothe and were there to pay their respects at the wake. The woman was holding a little boy who looked like a blonde cherub with big blue eyes in her arms.
Theresa moved forward to greet them.
"Ed… Holly… how kind of you to come," she said graciously.
Sheridan approached them as if drawn by a magnet, appearing unable to tear her eyes from the sight of their toddler.
"We can't stay long," Holly apologized. "As you can see, our babysitter bailed on us at the last minute and we had to bring our son. But we didn't feel right about not stopping by to pay our respects. Chris was a great friend and a wonderful coworker and we'll miss him."
"All Chris liked to do when we were not conducting business is talk about you and his kids, Sheridan," Ed added. "It was obvious to us all how crazy he was about all of you. I know he'd want us to support you in your grief."
"He was a wonderful man," Sheridan said, "I'll miss him, too."
Sheridan's beautiful blue eyes welled with tears and her lower lip quivered, as waves of grief overwhelmed her. Seeing Ed and Holly come to pay their respects and talk about Chris in the past tense was making the shroud of denial that Sheridan had wrapped herself in start to shred.
Her husband's death had seemed too surreal for Sheridan to believe in her heart of hearts. Now it was clear that nothing would change if she just woke up and that he would never walk through her door again to kiss her on the cheek, hold Katie, or play with James ever again.
Noticing Sheridan's reaction, Theresa sighed and all but visibly rolled her eyes for everyone in the room to see. Yes, Sheridan was very convincing as Chris Boothe's grieving wife, but Theresa knew that underneath Sheridan's tragically bereft young wife and mother façade, the Merry Widow Boothe was scheming how to steal Luis from her beautiful young niece, Fancy.
"We are just so sorry about the baby-sitter. We can't apologize enough. It isn't appropriate to intrude with our little boy-" Holly started to say, but was interrupted by her hostess.
"Nonsense," Theresa interposed. "This is Chris's wake, not his funeral. Tonight, we celebrate his life and that includes his children. We've just returned from his Rosary Mass and were planning to bring the children down to mingle with the adults. We have three toddlers to keep your little boy company, even if they are all little girls. What's his name, anyway?"
"Matthew," Ed answered, beaming with fatherly pride at the child in Holly's arms.
"Matthew," Sheridan repeated. "I can't get over how much he looks like my son at that age."
"I saw James' picture on Chris's desk," Holly remarked. "His hair is brown and his eyes are hazel, now. I guess they changed color as he got older?"
"No," Sheridan corrected Holly sadly. "I wasn't talking about my stepson. I was talking about the little boy that I lost over a year ago. I was talking about my son, Marty. He had a thick head of wavy blonde hair and blue eyes just like Matthew."
"Oh, Sheridan," Holly replied, slightly taken aback. "I'm so sorry, but Chris never mentioned Marty. I guess he though the subject would make people too uncomfortable. I can't imagine the pain you have suffered. I don't know how you got over losing Marty and still kept your sanity. I know that if anything happened to Matthew, they'd have to bury me the next day."
"I never got over losing Marty," Sheridan admitted pensively. "I still miss him … so much."
To Theresa's annoyance, it looked as if Matthew's fleeting resemblance to Marty would offer Sheridan yet another reason to need Luis's strong shoulder to lean upon.
Theresa had no doubt in her mind that Sheridan would waste no time making a beeline to Luis to talk about Matthew … no, Marty … wistfully with him. Would Sheridan even allow her late husband's body to grow cold in the grave before she used their lost son to get Luis back? Theresa didn't think so. Not with the obsessively possessive behavior Sheridan had displayed toward Luis when Chris was still alive.
Sheridan already presented a sympathetic picture as a young widowed mother with two small vulnerable children who needed the protection of some knight errant. Add the fact that she was his dead son's mother, and Theresa feared that Luis and his innate gallantry would find such a combination too irresistible to resist.
Well, luckily he has his baby sister to run interference, Theresa thought.
With brittle cheer, Theresa interposed, "But James is such a wonderful little boy and such a great consolation to Sheridan."
For a few seconds, Sheridan looked as nonplussed at Theresa's interjection as if the younger woman had slapped her, but recovered. "Yes," she agreed and bravely added, "Of course, I still have Katie to keep me going, especially now that Chris is gone."
"That's great," Ed said a little too heartily, in obvious relief. "Children do have a way of keeping us strong."
"They sure do," Theresa agreed sweetly. "Please follow me into the living room and join the rest of us. I'll send up a servant to the nursery, so children should be down in a few minutes to give Matthew some company."
"That's okay," Gwen said, noticing that her breasts had started to leak a little, "I spilled some of my drink on my top again and need to go upstairs to change, anyway – I'm such a klutz, lately – I'll go get them."
"Thanks, Gwen," Theresa said. Without another word to anyone, Theresa coldly and calculatedly turned her back on Sheridan and walked toward Luis and Fancy with Ed and Holly Blake trailing behind.
A grateful Ed and Holly took Matthew and followed Theresa into the living room from the foyer. By some of the murmurs and remarks Sheridan heard people made as they came in, it was clear that everyone was admiring that cute little boy.
Sheridan's jaw had dropped slightly over the nasty shock she felt at Theresa's cavalier dismissal of any display of grief from herself over Chris or Marty. She fought down her anger and tried to compose herself for fear that she would go into the living room and stage a scene by yanking that little bitch back by her long raven-black tresses of hair and trying to break her scrawny little neck, like she had witnessed Gwen do to Theresa many times during their epic battles over Ethan.
Oh, Gwen has all my sympathy now, Sheridan thought ironically. In fact, I think she was too restrained in her reactions to that little troll!
Aloud, Sheridan offered, "I'll help."
Sheridan was relieved that there was something to distract her attention from Matthew who looked hauntingly like Marty at that age.
Gwen and Sheridan headed up the stairs together.
To Gwen's relief, Sheridan said, "I have to freshen up myself. Let's meet in the nursery in ten minutes."
Gwen nodded and went to her room. There she stripped to the waist, expressed her breast milk into the bathroom sink and gave her upper torso a slight sponge bath. She towel-dried, talcum-powdered the area, changed into a new brassiere and slipped into an attractive, but conservative sheath.
Within the allotted time, she met Sheridan at the nursery where she was in the process of rounding up the children.
Little Ethan and James were filled up with pent-up energy and bounded down the stairs before they could be stopped, causing Sheridan and Gwen to shake their heads and laugh ruefully.
But at least, Gwen thought, we can focus on the girls who would want to walk down rather than be carried down, but who were still too young to traverse the stairs without close supervision. As she gathered Jane, Maria, and Jennifer together, she noticed that Sheridan had picked up Katie.
"You're taking Katie," Gwen noted. "Isn't she still too little to be with the other children?"
"I'm not bringing Katie down for the other children," Sheridan answered. "I can't get over how much little Matthew Blake looks like Marty at that age. God, I miss my little boy! But, I know that I've lost him forever, so I'm bringing Katie down for me … so I can remind myself about what I still have."
Gwen nodded in understanding. Even though she would grieve the loss of Sarah and Nathan until the day she died, she was still grateful for and took much comfort from the presence of Jenny and Jon-Louis in her life.
By some kind of unspoken pre-arrangement, Gwen found herself heading down the stairs ahead of Sheridan with Jane and Jenny on either side of her, firmly gripping their little hands. Sheridan was following behind her, carrying Katie in one arm while using her free hand to hold onto Kay's daughter Maria.
"Here we come," Gwen announced gaily to the assembly of people in Crane House's living room as they stepped off the landing and came down the stairs together. Everyone inside looked up at Gwen and Sheridan descending the stairway and smiled.
To Gwen's chagrin, she noticed that awful couple she and Sheridan had run into the park earlier. John Milton and that odious cat of a wife of his, Corinne, were in the throng of people attending the wake in the living room. Unpleasantly surprised to see them, Gwen idly wondered if Corinne had convinced John to crash the wake. From what she had seen of the woman, Gwen would not have been shocked if this was the case.
The dreadfully sordid scene that the Miltons witnessed during the gala Gwen had thrown to celebrate the Winthrop Family Firm's grand opening flashed through Gwen's memory. Obviously Gwen's humiliation at finding Ethan and Theresa making love on his office desk had only whetted Corinne's appetite for more. Even now, Corrine had positioned herself in the room to watch what she obviously hoped would be more fireworks between Gwen and Theresa.
Well, Gwen was going to disabuse that bitch of any of her notions that Gwen Hotchkiss would be providing the likes of Corinne Milton with any more lowbrow entertainment with Theresa Lopez-Fitzgerald! Catching Theresa's eye, Gwen smiled warmly at her and nodded cordially. She almost laughed out loud at the look of chagrin on Corinne Milton's face. Satisfied that she had rained on Corinne's parade, she dismissed the vulgar gossip as the non-entity that she was and concentrated on the business of bringing the children down to join the room.
Not knowing Gwen's reasons, Theresa was somewhat baffled by Gwen's warm smile directed at herself. Yes, things had thawed considerably between the two of them, but that was just both of them observing the rules of hospitality. Theresa was bending over backwards to be a good hostess to her unwelcome guest, Gwen in order to please Ethan who wanted to see Gwen's daughter, Jenny, without losing any more time with Theresa's daughter, Jane. There was also Theresa's fervent hope that if Gwen felt that Jenny would be safe and well-treated in Theresa's care, Gwen would allow Jenny to visit Ethan and Jane without Gwen hovering in Harmony.
Theresa assumed that Gwen had her own private reasons for being on her best behavior. What they were, Theresa neither knew nor cared. In any case, aside from exchanging polite pleasantries, Gwen and Theresa did not go out of their way to acknowledge each other more than what was required by social etiquette.
Through the rails holding up the stairway banister, Theresa could see that the three little girls were being walked down the stairs in their own party finery. They smiled sweetly looking as if they all felt very grownup to walk down like big girls rather than being carried like little babies.
Theresa noticed that Gwen was in the lead, descending slowly with the two sisters. Theresa would see Jenny by the banister go down a step and then Jane by the interior wall take a step and then Gwen would join them. Sheridan was following closely behind with Kate on her right arm and Maria behind Jane by the wall.
As Gwen, Sheridan and the little girls headed down the stairs, Gwen noticed that Fancy had spotted Matthew and was making a fuss over him. She watched as Fancy held out her arms and a smiling Holly handed Matthew over to Fancy to hold. Fancy then walked over with the boy to show him to Luis.
Gwen's heart ached a little as she watched Luis and Fancy fussing over the beautiful baby in Fancy's arms. Gwen sadly found herself thinking that, in another year or two, the idea that Luis and Fancy would get married and have a child of their own would be another painful reality that Gwen would just have to learn to live with.
Oh well, it's all good, Gwen rationalized to herself, because there IS an upside to this. Fancy and Luis getting married and having a family together gives me yet another reason to stay in Boston, severing all ties with Harmony and keeps Jenny and Jon-Louis away from Ethan and safe from that jealous, possessive psychopath he is engaged to.
Yes, it was a bitch to be alone, but she could take cold comfort at the thought of no more dead babies filling tiny coffins buried in small graves. Seeing the inevitability of Fancy and Luis' future already unfolding before her eyes, Gwen was all that much more impatient to get back to Boston and the little boy she loved so much.
Gwen was not the only woman on the stairs who had noticed the charming picture that Matthew made with Fancy Crane and Luis Lopez Fitzgerald in the living room. Sheridan had noticed what had diverted Gwen's attention as well and then the reality of the future that loomed before her eyes hit her.
Over the past few days, Sheridan had observed Gwen watching Ethan and Theresa bond over and bond with their "new" daughter, the real Jane Pilar Lopez-Fitzgerald with a certain amount of painful serenity. To all intents and purposes, Jenny had been replaced by Theresa's real daughter where Ethan was concerned, but at least Gwen still had her own daughter.
But Sheridan realized that, if Fancy got away with her machinations to steal Luis away, her treacherous niece would not only replace her aunt in his bed, but also give him a son of his own to replace Marty. Marty was dead and never coming back. Marty was so completely dead and gone thanks to that explosion that Sheridan didn't have his body to lay to rest in a grave that she could visit. It was almost like, with his body, the explosion had obliterated Marty's very memory with Luis, who was no doubt imaging the son he would have with Fancy after they married.
The agony Sheridan felt at that moment was unbearable and she thought she would lose her mind then and there. Thank God, for Gwen, Sheridan thought. Even though she now had Jenny to sustain her, Gwen knew what it was like to mourn a child. Sheridan's eyes frantically latched onto Gwen for reassurance, but she was further rocked by what she saw.
At that moment, all of Gwen's rigid social training had come to bear. Politely, she smiled at the touching family tableaux this gorgeous couple made with that beautiful child, as if she was filled with appreciation at the sight. And then it struck Sheridan.
Gwen approves of Luis with Fancy, Sheridan realized, and she was overcome by a rage so overpowering by her best friend's betrayal that she instinctively reacted without thinking.
Tearing her eyes away, Gwen started to proceed again carefully down the stairs with Jenny and Jane when she was so startled by the loud grinding noise of The Perpetual Motion Machine that she jumped in her tracks a little, almost losing her balance. She swayed a little but still held firm when she felt a hard shove from behind, causing Gwen to almost fall face down the stairs, but jostling the arm which was attached to Jane so hard that she lost her grip on the girl.
Gwen felt rather than heard the crowd in the living room cry out in shock at the sight. Sick with dread and foreboding, an ashen-faced Gwen noticed that Jane kept tumbling and crashing down the steep stairs, as if in slow-motion, only to land with a sickening, bone-jarring thud on the marble floor at the foot of the stairwell.
Gwen was aghast to see that she had lost her hold on Jane, but she could not help but convulsively grab Jenny to steady the little girl with the hand that was now free as she fought desperately to regain her own equilibrium. As she straightened up, to Gwen's horror, she noticed that Jane was not breathing and, as blood fanned out from her little head, her big blue eyes were staring sightlessly up the stairs in silent accusation at Gwen.