Helplessly, Theresa shrieked in terror as she watched Gwen deliberately and cold-bloodedly pitch Jane head first down the stairs only mere seconds after she had smirked at Theresa so sinisterly.
Shoving everyone in the room around her aside, Theresa scrambled to get to Jane, but Eve had already beaten her to her daughter's crumpled body. Theresa was about to gather Jane into her arms but Eve stopped her.
"Don't, Theresa," Eve said, blocking the smaller woman's access to the child.
"Get out of my way, Eve," Theresa snarled. "Jane needs me!"
Her attention was distracted by a movement at the top of the stairs where her big brown eyes locked on Gwen's still, white face.
"You murderer! You killed my baby," Theresa screamed.
"It was an accident," Gwen protested through stiff, white lips, sounding to her own ears as very cold and detached.
"The hell it was," Theresa raged. "Did you think you could just get away with this? I saw you! I saw you deliberately pitch my baby head first down the stairs and so did everybody else, you stupid bitch!"
Theresa tried to run up the stairs to attack Gwen, but was pulled back by Ethan.
"For the love of God, stop it, Theresa," Ethan begged. "She's got Jenny with her and there are two other small children up there, too. Haven't enough children been hurt tonight already?"
Theresa had to content herself with swearing at Gwen in a torrent of vile abuse rattling Gwen's desperate attempt to pacify the situation.
"I'm going to make sure that you go to jail and they throw away the key," Theresa threatened ominously. "Baby killer!"
And with those words, Gwen became so outraged and angry that she snapped.
"You should know," Gwen defended herself to Theresa furiously. "I see no reason why I should go to jail for accidentally getting one of yours when you went out of your way to take two of mine and are still walking around free, you murderous tramp! So shut your vile hypocritical mouth, you nasty little troll!"
"I want this bitch arrested for murder," Theresa screamed. "Luis-"
"Relax, Theresa," Everyone heard Eve say. They had all been too intent on watching yet another display of the primal hatred between Gwen Hotchkiss and Theresa Lopez-Fitzgerald that had been going on since Ethan had first jilted the rich heiress for the poor housekeeper's daughter.
"Theresa," Eve repeated her name more loudly to get her attention. "Jane is not dead. She's conscious and can hear everything you say. You need to calm down so she will remain still."
"Oh, thank God," Theresa exclaimed fervently. "Jane, Mommy's sorry. Stay still, sweetie!"
Ethan released Theresa, seeing that she had forgotten all about Gwen in that moment.
Theresa immediately raced to Eve and Jane's side.
"Gwen," Ethan said, looking at her sternly. "You and Sheridan need to take the children back to the nursery."
"Not until I find out Jane's prognosis," Gwen said stubbornly, in a cold, toneless voice. She knew that she was not presenting herself very sympathetically to the spectators in the living room. But she was going to be damned if she was going to break down in front of them.
"I didn't think you cared," Ethan said reproachfully.
"Then you never really knew me," Gwen answered more calmly than she felt.
"Eve," Ethan called looking over his shoulder back at Eve who was checking Jane's eyes while Theresa held Jane's hand reassuringly. "How does it look, so far?"
"So far, so good," Eve responded. "Her pupils are dilating normally and she seems responsive enough."
"But all that blood-" Theresa interrupted anxiously.
"It's probably just a scalp wound," Eve reassured Theresa. "They can bleed a lot. It's scary, but not serious. But I've still called an ambulance and I want Jane to be held overnight for observation and for some additional tests, just to be sure."
As if on cue, the emergency medical response team came in with a stretcher and a back board. They slid the backboard under Jane's head, secured the child to the board and then carefully lifted the little girl into the ambulance. Without a backwards glance at Gwen, who was still standing on the stairway, Ethan and Theresa left with the team to ride in the ambulance with Jane to the hospital.
Feeling tears gather in her eyes and terrified of losing her own rigid composure in front of the Milton's, Gwen turned around to see Sheridan standing motionless above her. For a fleeting second, a horrible suspicion came to Gwen as she remembered that she felt like she had been shoved from behind. But Sheridan looked both upset at what happened to Jane and very concerned for Gwen's state of mind. Gwen felt ashamed of her irrational thoughts. No, she must have lost her balance on the stair somehow and lost control of Jane that way. No way, no how was Sheridan even remotely capable of endangering another woman's child.
"It was an accident," Gwen said apologetically to Sheridan, her eyes starting to well with tears.
"I know," Sheridan reassured Gwen gently. "Let's take the children back to the nursery."
Sheridan turned around and headed back up the stairs, taking Maria and Kate with her.
Gwen followed Sheridan from behind, but not before looking at the landing where Jane had almost died that night. It was splattered with blood. Gwen looked down at the step where she had lost her grasp on Jane's hand to see if there was a seam loose in the stairway carpet or something, some defect there that might cause her to lose her balance when she was being so careful with both children, but there was nothing.
Gwen and Sheridan dropped the children off at the nursery and headed back to Gwen's room.
Gwen poured herself a stiff drink with shaking hands and brought the glass to her lips with numb fingers. Neither she nor Sheridan said a word. Gwen sensed that Sheridan was so quiet because she wanted to give her some space to gather her thoughts and compose herself.
Outside of Gwen's room, coming down the hallway walked Luis and Fancy.
"Maybe we should wait until tomorrow morning when everything's calmer," Fancy was saying to Luis.
"We can't do that," Luis said. "We all saw what Theresa saw. It did look like Gwen threw Jane down the stairs."
"Surely, you know Gwen isn't capable of doing anything like that," Fancy protested.
However, Fancy was not sure of what anyone was capable of doing anymore. She was still disturbed by what she herself had noticed just before the incident. And that was the two very odd expressions on the faces of both Gwen and Sheridan.
Fancy had heard Gwen call out and had looked up to see Gwen smile at Theresa and then smile at Luis and herself with little Matthew. Then she saw Gwen sway violently and look surprised and alarmed then horrified as she lost control of Jane. Just like a normal person would react to an accident in progress.
But Sheridan's face was a mask of rage and terrifying hatred. Like Fancy's aunt was full of murderous impulse.
Fancy suspected that Sheridan had something to do with Jane's accident. But she had no proof. She had not actually seen Sheridan shove Gwen so hard that she lost her hold on Jane's hand. She had only seen Sheridan's hand free when it came to letting go of Maria's hand to help Gwen steady herself as she fought to regain her own equilibrium.
"I'm sure that Gwen has a reasonable explanation," Luis said, "But we still have to investigate it and we can only start by asking her what happened."
He resolutely knocked on Gwen's bedroom door and was only dimly surprised to see that it was Sheridan answering.
"Is Gwen available to answer some questions," Luis asked Sheridan.
"I don't think tonight is a good time to bother Gwen," Sheridan told him. "She seems like she is in a state of shock. She just sits there and shakes. I don't think she is in the right mind to correctly recall what happened. Maybe tomorrow would be a better time?"
"That's all right," said Gwen who had been sitting in a chair with her back faced to them. She rose from her chair and turned around to face them all. "Luis and Fancy are just doing their job. I knew that it was just a matter of hours at the most before the police would question me. After all, a-a child was injured. I'll be happy to cooperate in any way I can."
"Luis," Fancy surprised him by saying, "Why don't you take Sheridan's statement in her room? I'll interview Gwen."
Luis looked surprised and somewhat gratified by Fancy's suggestion. It made sense that Fancy rather than he himself question Gwen as Jane, the victim, was his niece. But he knew that Fancy still felt rather insecure about him being alone with Sheridan, especially after finding her alone with him the night of the grand opening of The Winthrop Family Law Firm.
"Sure," he said. "That sounds like the best idea. Sheridan? Are you ready?"
"Of course," Sheridan answered agreeably, but covertly cast a skeptical look at Fancy and was not surprised to see the hard gleam in Fancy's eyes. More than Luis, they both remembered all too clearly what had transpired the night of Ethan's grand opening. Sheridan and Fancy had ended up in a cat fight when Fancy had caught Sheridan trying to talk Luis into ending his relationship with her. Sheridan, of all people, knew that Fancy had no reason to trust her aunt with her lover.
I wonder what Fancy is up to, Sheridan speculated. She sensed that Fancy was suspicious of her but whether it was over something new or for the same old reasons was hard to say. But it was all good. Luis could be relied upon to ask her less hardball questions than Fancy would. He would take her answers at face value. He would not press her for more details out of sheer gallantry.
She smiled sweetly and sailed through the portal as Luis opened the door for her.
"Why don't you sit down, Gwen, and make yourself comfortable," Fancy said, taking the adjoining chair.
"I'm pretty nervous," Gwen said. "I don't know if I'll ever be comfortable enough to make sense of what just happened tonight."
"Just gather your thoughts and tell me what you remember," Fancy said.
"What I remember or what I am sure of," Gwen asked wryly.
"That's a strange answer," Fancy remarked.
"It's a strange, almost surreal situation," Gwen replied.
"Meaning," Fancy prompted.
"Meaning, I don't know for sure," Gwen said. "I was so sure that I was being careful. In fact, I always made a point of being very careful around Jane, because of my … situation with Theresa. I mean, look at Jane! You have to admit that there is no denying whose child she is. For Jane to be hurt under my care is like my worst nightmare come true."
"You mean you care about her," Fancy asked. "You didn't mean to hurt her?"
"I don't have to be head over heels in love with the child to not want to see Jane hurt whether she is in my care or not," Gwen snapped. "It just makes it so much worse that she was with me in my care when she got hurt.
"I know," Fancy commiserated.
"I just wish I had listened to my first instincts and refused Ethan when he asked me to bring Jenny," Gwen fretted. "I could have left Jenny in Boston and then checked in to my hotel room at Harmony Hyatt. That way, I would have attended the wake and there would have been no reason for me to be on those stairs at all!"
"Yes, but Ethan wanted to spend more time with Jenny as well as Jane," Fancy reminded Gwen. "That is why both you and Theresa called a truce so you could stay at Crane House with Jenny."
"Well, both of us make a terrible mistake." Gwen shrugged disconsolately. "With our history together, we should never, ever take any chances with each other's children. I just hope that our carelessness doesn't cost Jane her life or cause her any long-term injuries."
"Let's start with what you are sure of," Fancy suggested.
"I am sure that somehow I lost my balance and nearly fell and lost my hold of Jane's hand," Gwen answered. "That I am sure of. I was so scared that I would send Jenny tumbling after Jane that my only thought was to steady her while trying to regain my equilibrium even as I felt sure that I had killed Jane."
Gwen started shivering again from reaction and felt like she needed another drink. Unsteadily, she made herself to the bar and poured some more brandy into her glass. Fancy observed how her hands trembled.
"And what do you remember," Fancy asked.
"I-this is where I am wondering if I am losing my mind," Gwen said in embarrassment. "I heard it and it startled me and then I felt like it shoved my left shoulder very hard-"
"You heard what," Fancy asked curiously.
"The Perpetual Motion Machine" Gwen said, her hopes sinking by Fancy's puzzled reaction. "It was a dream I had earlier that day when I took a nap."
Fancy listened in fascination as an embarrassed but agitated Gwen recounted her dream of this strange machine with the changing titles. The Ethan Project? The Luis Project? How strange!
Of course, this odd explanation of Gwen's does not exonerate her of any motive for hurting Jane, Fancy worried. In fact, it makes her look worse.
"I know what you are thinking," Gwen accused Fancy. "I took enough psychology courses in college to understand what my hearing the machine from my dream means, especially when no one else heard it. Some shrink would say hearing this machine was some sort of subconscious projection of my hatred towards Theresa which would enable me, with clear conscience, to toss Jane down the stairs right before her mother's eyes. I had means, I had opportunity. God knows, I had motive. It was my revenge on Theresa, because I blamed her for Sarah and Nathan's deaths."
"Was it revenge," Fancy asked.
"No," Gwen said. "At least I don't think so. I didn't have to kill Jane to use that child to get revenge on her mother. On paper and where the Harmony Court System is concerned, that child, Jane Winthrop, is still legally my daughter! Do you know how close I came to just keeping her just to spite her mother?"
"No," Fancy answered. "Ethan gave me the idea that the transfer went through without a hitch."
"In fact, I could have taken my revenge on her mother from the get-go, by making it known to Theresa that her real daughter was out there yet making sure she never found her. It would have been all too simple for me to warn Heather Hooper, and that crack-head she married, that the authorities knew about them having Jane. Don't you think I was strongly tempted to do just that?"
"I'm sure you were," Fancy conceded, "But I'm glad you didn't."
"In the end, I sent her back to Theresa the only legal way I could, by giving Jane to Ethan as part of our divorce settlement," Gwen continued. "Why? Not because I thought Theresa deserved to get Jane back. Not out of any residual love I have left over for Ethan, for that matter. I basically signed away custody of my adopted daughter and my husband to Theresa Lopez-Fitzgerald in order to be done with her. I did it because I wanted this long nightmare I've had with Theresa to end. I just wanted to have a happy peaceful life with my family in Boston. It was for my own self-preservation, and for no other reason. So, why would I sabotage myself by killing Jane?"
"You said you heard 'it' and then felt like 'it' shoved your left arm so hard that you lost your hold on Jane's hand," Fancy said, feeling Gwen's explanation sounded reasonable. "The only other person on the stairwell with you was Sheridan and she was directly behind you. Gwen, is it possible that Sheridan shoved your arm?"
"Sheridan," Gwen echoed dumbly. "No. Come one, Fancy. Sheridan is-was a mother. Her own son Marty was kidnapped by that crazy Beth that Luis was involved with and then he was killed by Alistair's enemies. I refuse to believe that Sheridan has it in her to deliberately cause harm to any child. Fancy, I know that there is still some animosity between you and Sheridan over Luis, but even you can admit that Sheridan would never do something like that."
"No, Gwen. I don't mean that Sheridan shoved your arm deliberately," Fancy lied. "I meant that Sheridan was closely following you and the girls with Maria and Katie and you were moving down the stairs so slowly and carefully. I wonder if Sheridan followed too closely and came down on your step before you left it, accidentally shoving your arm as she did so?"
"I don't know," Gwen admitted as her bedroom door opened. "To me it looked as if we both had not moved from our respective steps when Jane fell down the stairs. We didn't have much to say to each other after Jane got hurt. You'd have to ask her."
"Ask me what," Sheridan demanded as she and Luis entered the room.
"Sheridan," Fancy phrased her question carefully as Gwen looked at Sheridan hopefully. "Is it possible that you had thought that Gwen had already gone down another step and helped Maria into her step, accidentally jostling her arm?"
"No, Fancy," Sheridan answered, looking at her niece oddly. "None of us moved into Gwen's step. I'm sorry, Gwen," she continued contritely as if she noticed Gwen's upset chagrin at her answer.
"Sheridan told me that the only thing she saw from behind is that Gwen appeared to sway violently, as if she was about to fall over," Luis told Fancy. "She heard rather than saw Jane fall and then let of Maria's hand to keep Gwen and Jenny from tumbling after Jane."
"Have you checked the stairwell to see if there are any tears in the carpet that may have caught her heel and caused her to lose her balance," Sheridan suggested.
"I guess that's the next step," Luis said.
Just then, a grim-faced Pilar Lopez-Fitzgerald and a couple of maids came through Gwen's bedroom door.
"What are you doing here," Sheridan demanded.
"We are here to help Ms. Hotchkiss pack," Pilar said haughtily. "Theresa called and she wants her out of Crane House before she returns."
"Are you serious?" Sheridan bristled angrily. "Gwen-"
"That's all right," Gwen said. "I don't think it's a good idea for me to stay here, either. Luckily, I never canceled my hotel reservations. I would like you to send one of your staff to the nursery to gather up Jennifer and her belongings."
"Theresa said that Jenny is welcome to stay," Pilar smugly told Gwen.
"I go where Jenny goes," Gwen curtly informed Pilar.
"Unless you've been arrested," Pilar retorted.
"Are you two arresting me," Gwen asked Fancy and Luis.
"Of course not," Luis said, looking appalled at his mother's remarks. "We don't make arrests, if any, until after an investigation is completed."
"Just don't leave town until we're done," Fancy said gently.
"Well then, Jenny staying at Crane House without me is not necessary," Gwen said in icy tones that brooked no argument. "I booked reservations at the Harmony Hyatt with accommodations for the both of us. Luckily, I never canceled them. My daughter will be leaving with me."
"As you wish," Pilar said coldly. "Lila, go collect Ms. Hotchkiss's daughter and her things."
"Yes, ma'am," Lila said and headed to the nursery.
"Surely this can wait until tomorrow morning," Fancy said. "Forensics is still examining the stairwell and we don't want anything disturbed."
"Theresa thought of that and has arranged for Ms. Hotchkiss to leave Crane House through the servant's entrance."
"How dare she do that to my best friend-," Sheridan began to expostulate angrily.
"That's all right, Sheridan," Gwen interjected as Lila returned with Jenny and her overnight bag in hand. "I want to leave Crane House any way I can." Grabbing hold of Jenny, Gwen followed Lila to the servant's entrance and thanked and tipped the maid after they got to her car. Then she slowly made her way down Crane House's long, winding driveway to head off to her original destination of the Hyatt Hotel.