This story is one of my old favorites so I thought I'd repost it here.

Sheridan and Luis and Theresa and Ethan are mentioned, but this story is, above all else, a Gwen story.

Hope you enjoy!


















Part One




Incensed, Gwen hurled the remote at the television. How dare he? She expected nothing less from Theresa; she was Theresa. But Ethan…

“Mrs. Winthrop,” the nurse rushed into the private room, her tone scolding. “You must calm yourself down. Your baby…”

The reminder had the desired effect. Forcing herself to breath evenly and deeply, Gwen thought only of her daughter’s health, pushing all thoughts of Ethan and Theresa’s disgusting public display to the back of her mind.

“That’s it,” the nurse soothed, relieved to see her patient’s heart rate and blood pressure read-outs return to normal. “Deep breaths. Relax,” she coached. Concerned when she noticed the tears collecting in the younger woman’s troubled brown eyes, she asked as kindly as she could, “Can I get you anything? Anyone? Perhaps your husband…”

Wiping at the lone tear that traveled down one cheek, Gwen came to a decision. “I need to talk to my doctor.”



~*~*~



Against her physician’s strongly voiced advice, Gwen checked herself out of the hospital, threatening legal action against him and the hospital if he or any other member of his staff so much as breathed a hint of her destination to Ethan.

She needed the distance. She needed the peace she hadn’t enjoyed since Theresa’s disruptive entry into her life.

The Tahoe lakehouse wasn’t exactly the answer to her fervent prayers, but it was close. Its beautiful scenery lulled her into a state of calm as the days crawled by and, eventually, a grudging acceptance.

Ethan would never love her wholly. Some part of his heart would always belong to Theresa.

If she deserved better, her daughter deserved the world.

The day Gwen had her lawyers deliver the signed divorce papers to Ethan was a turning point in her life, a new beginning.

It was Sarah Hotchkiss’s birthday.


~*~*~


Sarah was the light in her mother’s life, the only love worth the heartache.

When Sarah was but three months old, Gwen traded in the lakehouse for a New York penthouse. She was soaring in the business world again and regaining a little bit of herself with every day she spent mothering her blue-eyed cherub.

Jonathan Hotchkiss joined his daughter and granddaughter in the Big Apple, his own executive days retired, his days better spent spoiling little Sarah.

They lived a good life, the curiously close trio. They wanted for nothing because they had everything they needed in each other.


~*~*~


Love knocked on Gwen’s door in the following years, but only Companionship was allowed entry.

She had a daughter to raise, an understandably overprotective father.

Her heart was full. That’s what she told herself. Armored.

Sheridan and Luis’s Christmas cards, pictures of a happy family with a mother, father, and through the years, an additional child or two, stung a little.

Sarah’s tears on Father’s Day that first year of playschool meant a night’s worth of tears locked away in the bathroom with the cooling water of the shower to drown them out.

The feelings passed.

She focused on the joy that was her daughter.

Life went on.


~*~*~




Part Two



Sarah broke her arm when she was seven years old during a playground tussle.

With her tangled gold curls and skinned, bloody knees, it was her father’s blue eyes welling with tears as the orthopedist set the bone that Gwen couldn’t forget.

That night after they arrived back at the penthouse, arms laden with bags from a shopping spree through FAO Schwartz, Gwen picked up the phone, ready to unleash all of her anger out at Ethan across the miles, but a cheery little voice stopped her as her daughter waved the pink cast underneath her nose, proudly showing off her grandfather’s signature.

“Sign my cast, Mommy. Next to Grandpa,” Sarah instructed, pushing her gold curls out of her face distractedly.

Gwen opted for the permanent marker instead of the pen her father held out helpfully for her, not wanting the ink to ever fade.

Sarah returned home from school the next day, the pink cast littered in a rainbow of signatures, but Gwen’s own signature stood alone.

The fight was forgotten; the father little Sarah knew from afar fading and no longer a cause of childish taunts.


~*~*~


That same year, Sarah’s best friend Jenny’s father asked Gwen out after a first time meeting at a parent-teacher conference. Stunning herself, Jonathan, Sarah, and most definitely Jenny’s father, Gwen accepted.

Eric and Gwen dated for six months.

Eric was a charmer, a good, simple man. He won Sarah’s heart from hello, so starved was she for a father’s love. Gwen wasn’t so easy, a harder fought battle, but when she said yes to his proposal, he told her it’d been a war well-worth it. He’d found a chink in Gwen’s armor.

To celebrate the engagement they drove out to a little Bed and Breakfast in the country, taking the girls with them.

Watching him with Jenny and Sarah, Gwen fell in love with the family she knew they could be.

If her heart had been full as she’d told herself numerous times before, now it simply overflowed.

An accident on the icy roads the way home sent them to a bustling New York ER.

It was only natural that the image of Theresa’s astonished face burned itself into the back of Gwen’s eyelids as her second chance at love slipped away several doors down.

More of Theresa’s damned fate at work?

She took one look at Ethan’s hands cradled protectively around Little Ethan, not so little anymore, in the next cubicle over and thought of her own daughter, sleeping in a hospital bed without her father’s comforting touch.

She took one look and walked away.


~*~*~


The physical evidence of the accident healed, but the emotional wounds left invisible scars.

Left without a mother and a father, Jenny was claimed by Eric’s parents.

The letters from Connecticut with her childish scrawl arrived weekly at first, gradually petering out by the year’s end with the last containing a card for Sarah’s eighth birthday.

Gwen gave her baby girl a party to remember her eighth year, a party she’d long remember as their return to the living following a difficult time.

Sheridan and Luis made the trip from Harmony, filling the penthouse with the joyous sounds only happy children could provide.

Martin gave Sarah her first kiss that day as bouncy-curled Maria hid her giggles and wide eyes with her hands and the twins played a rousing game of hide and seek with Jonathan while tiny Isabella slumbered in Luis’s protective arms.

Sarah’s favorite gift was a gleaming gold heart-shaped locket Gwen fastened around her neck with whispered words of love, far eclipsing Ethan’s extravagantly wrapped gift of ribbon and bows.


~*~*~


Part Three



That summer saw Rebecca’s health failing, and Gwen found herself powerless to deny her mother’s summons back to Harmony.

Her parents made their peace with each other in the hours they spent bonding with their precocious granddaughter, and Rebecca went quietly in the night with Jonathan’s hand clutched in hers.

Following the private graveside service, Gwen sent her tearful little daughter home with Sheridan in the hopes that Martin’s welcome company would lift her spirits, staying behind to join her father in his grief.

They buried Rebecca that day, and all the bad memories from their past.


~*~*~


The New York penthouse seemed too cold, too empty after the hours spent at Sheridan and Luis’s comfortable abode over the summer with its laughter and richness of life.

Gwen packed her father and her daughter up and returned home to Harmony a second time, this time to stay.

Sarah spent many glorious hours at the Lopez-Fitzgerald home, reveling in the feelings of happiness and acceptance she found there.

Sheridan and Luis brought Sarah and Little Ethan together, and a bond none of them could have predicted sprang forth and flourished, bringing Gwen and Ethan back into each other’s spheres.

Slowly, Ethan was woven back into the fabric of their lives.

Sarah had never been happier.

Gwen extended a tentative olive branch.



~*~*~



Every loving parent is forced to make a decision they don’t want to once in their life. That’s what Gwen told herself when she agreed to let Ethan have Sarah for Christmas that year.

Jonathan and Gwen strolled arm in arm down the sidewalks of Harmony on their way to Midnight Mass, each taking solace from the other.

“Little Ethan’s her brother,” Gwen sighed as she tucked her blond head underneath her father’s chin. “I can’t keep her from him. She loves him.”

Jonathan patted his daughter’s hand consolingly and let her voice her fears and insecurities as snowflakes fluttered in the midnight sky and the church loomed ahead, songs of worship spilling from within.

Kay and Miguel’s Maria scurried past them all giggles, skillfully eluding her parents as well as her grandmother and Charity as she stomped the snow off of her boots and entered the church without them.

The necessary polite greetings held a little more warmth this year, and Gwen smiled thoughtfully at the gentlemanly nod her father gave Pilar, accompanied with a smile.


They sang carols that Mass, Sheridan and Luis’s youngest Isabella, singing as loud as her two-year-old lungs would allow.

Gwen’s belief in Christmas miracles was restored that year when Ethan made his own difficult decision, bestowing upon her his greatest gift.

Mother and daughter spent their first Christmas in Harmony together.


~*~*~


Part Four


In the middle of Sarah’s tenth summer, Antonio Lopez-Fitzgerald returned home, tired of years of endless drifting and ready to make peace with his past.

Sarah and Martin found him, wandering the pier looking lost.

Gwen didn’t know what made her daughter take the stranger’s hand that day. Years of well-meant lectures should have taught her better.

Antonio looked rugged and tired, and the bittersweet quality of his smile when he came face to face with Sheridan again after so many years touched something within Gwen’s dormant heart.

Sheridan wiped the sand from her hands and greeted Antonio with an awkward smile. She took her son’s sun-bronzed bare shoulders in her hands and made the introduction that begged to be made as her children gathered around her in a protective circle. “Meet your uncle Antonio.”

Gwen and Sarah joined them for an afternoon ice cream cone and went home afterward.

It wasn’t the last time Gwen and Antonio’s paths crossed.


~*~*~


Despite the distance between their mothers, Sarah and Little Ethan enjoyed a closeness that sometimes mystified Gwen.

When Sarah told Gwen that Ethan and Theresa had finally been successful in conceiving another child together, Gwen felt a residual pain in her heart.

Sarah’s joy at the prospect of being a big sister gradually won her over.

Everywhere around her, families grew and loved each other.

In the deepest part of her that would never admit to such a thing, Gwen wanted to be the parent that gave Sarah another sibling.

Though the years had been kind to her father, he wouldn’t be around forever, and Sarah was growing up fast.

For the first time since she’d allowed Eric to claim a little piece of her heart, Gwen admitted the truth to herself.

She WANTED love.


~*~*~


Sarah’s frequent visits to the Lopez-Fitzgerald’s bustling home continued, a mainstay in their lives since returning to Harmony.

Little Ethan, Sarah, Martin, and Maria made a lifetime vow of friendship in Sheridan and Luis’s backyard, becoming blood brothers and sisters, much to Pilar’s ire.

Months after the fact, Gwen still laughed over Pilar’s reaction that day. The expression on her face had been priceless.

Through Sheridan and Luis, Sarah came to know Antonio as he renewed his tattered ties to his family.

Through Sarah, Gwen came to know Antonio.

Antonio was patient with her impressionable daughter, fielding her questions about his adventures at sea with thought and quiet enthusiasm.

The pair became unlikely friends, and Sarah’s unfettered acceptance of Antonio for who he was, Pilar would tell Gwen many years later in confidence, helped set Antonio free.

It was only natural that Sarah turned to Antonio for comfort when a heart attack ended Jonathan Hotchkiss’s life unexpectedly in the waning days of summer.

Finding comfort in Antonio’s arms for herself, however, was something totally unexpected.



Part Five



With Jonathan’s death, Antonio was elevated from a supporting role in Gwen’s and Sarah’s lives to the part of their leading man.

Too distracted with the impending birth of his and Theresa’s second child, Ethan failed to notice the seemingly overnight evolution.

Sheridan had though, and she confronted Gwen about her feelings for Antonio one night, only weeks before Sarah’s eleventh birthday.

The conversation that followed lingered in Gwen’s subconscious for days, every hard-won smile Antonio coaxed out of her grieving daughter making her question what was truly in her heart.

In the days following her father’s death, when the pain had been too heavy a burden, she had clung to him fiercely, pulling him into her bed in a firestorm of raw need and desperation, seeking only to be comforted. Morning broke with her bed empty, shards of her heart scattered all over the place. He put the first piece back together by making her and Sarah pancakes as the morning bled into afternoon, sunlight and shadows sharing an elaborate dance outside.

From that moment on, Antonio became the friend they couldn’t seem to live without.

Her daughter loved him, but did she?

Gwen didn’t know.


~*~*~


Antonio took them sailing on Sarah’s birthday, and though the wind was bitter cold and their cheeks chapped when they returned to shore, Sarah and Gwen both quietly agreed they’d had the time of their lives.

Theresa was bedridden in the last stage of her difficult pregnancy, and the flu had infiltrated the halls of Sheridan and Luis’s home.

Sarah’s party was small, cake and ice cream shared fireside with her mother and Antonio. Her gifts were plentiful, her wishes few.

Gwen argued the finer points of Chess with Antonio; Antonio insisted Checkers was more fun.

In the end, Sarah commandeered a game of Twister between the two adults that ended in flushed cheeks and her mother’s victory.

It was a good party.

Jonathan would have approved.


~*~*~


When Emily Winthrop was three days old, her blue eyes changed to a muddy brown.

Sarah loved the baby powder scent of her sister.

When Emily Winthrop was two weeks old, she made her debut at Midnight Mass, making her presence known with her lusty wails.

Sarah swore she sounded just like her stepmother when she cried.

When Emily Winthrop was three and a half weeks old, she was bald and fat and well on her way to being spoiled rotten by both of her parents.

Sarah decided sharing her father’s heart with her half-sister wasn’t so bad when her sister had a claim on her heart too.

When Emily Winthrop was six weeks old, she went to sleep in her crib and woke up in Heaven with the angels.

Sarah cried because another goodbye had come too soon.

~*~*~



Part Six



Gwen often felt that her life was like a journey through a long tunnel, the light somewhere beyond her reach. Some twists brought her nothing but pain; some turns brought her unexpected joy.

Stripped raw, her old foe was just a woman, much like herself, and that winter Theresa’s wounds were bloody, her trusted Fate having dealt her a cruel hand.

The shadow of death lurked in every corner of Ethan and Theresa’s home, and Gwen insisted Ethan and Little Ethan conduct their visits with Sarah elsewhere, not wanting her daughter to dwell in the darkness.

Gwen held out a helping hand that winter.

Theresa was just too numb to feel it.


~*~*~


When the snow melts and the numbness recedes, the pain can sometimes be too much, the nerves more attuned to feeling than ever.

Gwen’s mind grasped the concept easily, but her heart had not been introduced to it firsthand until Antonio kissed her one fine spring evening.

On his lips she tasted coffee; on his tongue, the smooth texture of the cheesecake they’d shared helping Sarah with her algebra homework.

Theorems and x, y, and z variables floated behind Gwen’s fluttering eyelids, and her fingers dug into Antonio’s forearms as she kissed him back, praying her daughter didn’t wake up in the other room.

Gwen pushed him away and sent him home, certain her reawakened feelings would be the death of her.

The next day, Antonio sailed away without a goodbye.

~*~*~


Little Ethan left them that fall and adopted a new name to haunt the halls of Harmony Junior High with, EJ.

The children had grown up when nobody was looking—Sheridan and Luis’s youngest, Arianne, already two.

Gwen wondered when she started measuring the swift passage of time with the growth of her best friend’s children and decided not to linger on the thought for time wasn’t the only thing measured in Sheridan terms; happiness was too, and by Sheridan standards it didn’t exist in Gwen’s world.

Sarah proved that theory wrong everyday.

~*~*~



Part Seven



Life gradually reacquainted itself with Theresa while unspoken love began a slow thaw of Gwen’s carefully constructed defenses.

When Antonio showed up on her doorstep after months away, Gwen decided it was time to take a leap of faith.

Sarah tagged along on their first ‘dates,’ a welcome distraction from the awkwardness that briefly made them forget they were friends.

Gwen liked their walks in the snow best when the world and Harmony seemed like a brand new place and anything was possible.

When Antonio held her hand, she thought of giddy teenage romances and lovers growing old together.

When Antonio kissed her lips, all she could see behind her closed eyelids was starry bursts of light.


~*~*~

Sarah and Maria went boy-crazy that school year.

Ethan and Miguel were suddenly out of their minds with worry.

Antonio worried too, even giving Sheridan and Luis’s young Martin a lecture on respect.

Gwen laughingly reminded him that, for all the stars in their eyes, they were still children, with many years of their life still to live and discover love. She playfully scolded him for the lecture, but she loved him for it all the same. She even told him so.

When Maria introduced Sarah to make-up was a totally different story.


~*~*~


When Sarah turned twelve, her party dress was a bridesmaid’s dress, her cake a towering wedding cake. She didn’t complain about the lack of candles; her biggest wish had already come true.

Isabella and Arianne were flower girls, and everybody laughed when Arianne spotted her mother at the front of the church and sprinted toward her excitedly, Isabella racing behind her to make sure she didn’t trip and land with her skirt over her head.

It was the fastest trip down the aisle Sarah had ever witnessed, and quite possibly the funniest, but not the one she would remember the longest. Neither Sarah nor Antonio let out a breath as the wedding march began, her mother appearing at the back of the church.

Gwen smiled, took a deep breath and a step forward, ready to continue the journey.

The light was just ahead.