Ethan Winthrop sat relaxing in his office at The Winthrop Family Law Firm, staring out the window overlooking the dock aligning Harmony Bay below, brooding. The view was beautiful though he could not see a damned thing. His business was thriving in spite of the scandal he had perpetrated with Theresa at the Opening Celebration Gala a few weeks ago. But the unwelcome lull in activity only served to remind him that his personal life was in shambles.
Upon finding that Gwen had moved out of the boarding house apartment she had shared with him, an uncomfortable Ethan had moved back in, seizing on the excuse to leave his parents' house, where he had to face a fretful Ivy and Sam's reproachful restraint. It was obvious to him that both thought his behavior with Theresa had been abominable; to Ivy, abominably stupid and to Sam, abominably immoral.
The morning after he had discovered that Theresa had made good on her threat not to wait for him if he chased after Gwen by marrying Jared that fateful night, he had been served with a restraining order, barring him from any contact with Theresa or Little Ethan or he would face criminal harassment charges. The order shutting him out of their lives was so strict and so snidely unctuous in its wording that Ethan had no doubt that Jared Casey himself had authored it. Still, it was legal and binding.
As legal and binding as the adoption of Theresa's daughter by his estranged wife, Gwen, unless he himself intervened and had it set aside. Ethan sighed, glancing over once again at the adoption papers and the court reporter's records of the proceedings.
Judge Weimer: I seem to recall at our last hearing that you were adamantly against signing over your parental rights to Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop. However, I notice he isn't here. Why isn't your husband with you, Mrs. Winthrop, does he have a problem with you adopting Jane?
Gwyneth Winthrop: He's raised no objection to my adopting Jane, Your Honor.
Judge Weimer: Then what is keeping him?
Gwyneth Winthrop: Your Honor, the adoption proceedings were set up much faster than he ever anticipated. He cannot be here today, because he had to be somewhere else.
Judge Weimer: Where is he?
Gwyneth Winthrop: He's with the woman he believed to be his paternal aunt, Sheridan Crane Boothe. She's received devastating news and is totally distraught. You see, the other day, she learned both her mother and son have died.
Judge Weimer: I heard about that in the news and I understand his absence today. Then, I take it; he has no problems with you adopting his daughter, Jane?
Gwyneth Winthrop: He's raised no objections, Your Honor.
Ethan groaned, raking his fingers through his usually meticulously groomed hair.
Gwen had deliberately misled the judge at Jane's adoption hearing to believe that Ethan was aware of her plans and approved of them. Since Theresa herself was present, raising no objection to the adoption, the judge had assumed all was in order and signed off on Jane's adoption. Ethan idly wondered how Gwen convinced Theresa to let her adopt Jane, seeing how adamant Theresa was about getting her daughter back. What leverage did Gwen have on Theresa? No, Ethan decided. Theresa had been put in tight spots by Gwen and her mother before this and had always managed to slip out of them. He had to accept Theresa's explanation that she was sick and tired of waiting for him to leave Gwen and simply made the arrangement permanent. Especially since Theresa, as usual, had an ace up her sleeve where this custody hearing was concerned. Ethan was ignorant of Gwen's plan to adopt Jane.
Theresa knew that Ethan could always undo Gwen's adoption of Jane when he divorced her. That's why she went along with it. She had further maneuvered Ethan into a corner where he no longer could effect any middle of the road compromise between Gwen and Theresa. One had to win and the other had to lose. He would have to completely side with one and forsake the other. If he sided with Gwen, he would risk losing Theresa to Jared Casey forever. However, if he sided with Theresa, he would risk losing The Winthrop Family Law Firm to Gwen's retaliatory strike. It would be different if there was still a marriage to Gwen to salvage, but it was plain by the divorce and custody papers she had served him with Gwen wanted no part of him.
"The point is, your life has been turned upside down … repeatedly … as a result of being caught in the crossfire of two battling women you can't control, yet you can't bring yourself to stop playing one against the other. "
Julian's comments rang so loudly in his head; Ethan almost didn't hear her when Valerie buzzed him.
"Yes, Valerie," Ethan said to his office manager. "What is it?"
"Leon Feldman is here to see you as you requested."
"Send him in," Ethan said, putting the paperwork out of sight in a drawer.
Leon walked in alone.
The two men shook hands very perfunctorily.
"I-I was expecting Gwen to be with you," Ethan said. "Where is she?"
"Mrs. Winthrop will not be present," Feldman answered grimly. "She issued me her power of attorney and is allowing me to represent her interests with you and your counsel today. May I ask where he is?"
"I-uh-I'm representing myself in this action," Ethan said.
"Come, come, Mr. Winthrop," Feldman chided him. "Surely you know that old saw about the man who represents himself has a fool for a client?"
"I do," Ethan admitted. "However, I wanted to attend to this business as quietly as possible."
"Then all you have to do is sign off on the divorce papers that Mrs. Winthrop sent you and I will file them," Feldman retorted. "It's all pretty cut and dried. You remain the nominal head of Winthrop Family Law services and continue to manage it with Mrs. Winthrop as your silent partner in exchange for her retaining sole custody of the minor child, Jane Winthrop."
"Look, Leon," Ethan pleaded. "We've known each other for years. Could we please end with the formalities and drop the surnames? As I said, I want to handle this as amicably as possible and I feel that 'Gwen,' and 'Ethan' can do that easier than Winthrop vs. Winthrop."
"How amicable can this thing be when Gwen caught you screwing the woman she despises most in the world right at the opening celebration gala she threw for you in a business she financed?" Leon demanded. "This is as good as it gets, Ethan. You're lucky she doesn't sue you for sole custody of Jane and for total control of the company. Just sign the divorce papers. It's very, very generous. More generous than you deserve."
"I can't do that," Ethan said.
"Because Theresa Crane, Jane's real mother, wants her back."
"Mrs. Crane, Jane's biological mother, was present in court during the adoption hearing and raised no objection at the time, Ethan," Leon said bristling protectively. "What kind of game is she playing, here?"
Ethan sighed and whipped out the record of the court proceedings.
"Look at the text, I highlighted, Leon," he said pointing to the judge's observation that he was not present. "Theresa knows that Gwen deliberately misled the judge into thinking I was aware of and approved Gwen's plans to adopt Jane. As you know, that's a fraud Gwen perpetrated on the court and would make Jane's adoption null and void, possibly setting Gwen up for legal trouble. At the very least, she's looking at a contempt citation."
"So, you called me in here to threaten my client with her so-called 'fraudulent adoption' of the minor child Jane unless she gives you something in return," Leon said shrewdly. "Are you trying to use that child as leverage so she signs off on the Winthrop Family Law Firm altogether?"
"No!" Ethan exclaimed, horrified. "I simply want to … renegotiate … custody of Jane. If Gwen is prepared to be … reasonable … about the Winthrop Family Law Firm, I can give her lots of standing with Jane as the stepmother who raised her. Theresa and I could arrange joint custody with standard visitation. Gwen could have her every other weekend and overnight once a week. She could also have her every other Christmas and Thanksgiving. I'm even prepared to allow several weeks over the summer. There is no reason whatsoever that Gwen has to lose Jane completely!"
"That's bullshit and you know it, Ethan!" Leon snapped. "In how many of these joint custody arrangements where regular visitation has been set up by the court only to have the primary custodial parent tell the visiting parent they can wipe their asses with that visitation schedule? And those are even when both parties have biological ties to the child! If Gwen would agree to the overturning of Jane's adoption, she would have even less standing in court with that."
"You'd have my word on it," Ethan solemnly assured him. "There is no way I would allow any interference with any time Gwen spends with Jane, especially that set up in court."
"You gave your word to 'love, honor and cherish' your wife only to be caught by her screwing her worst enemy in front of almost half of Harmony," Leon said. "Your word means nothing to Gwen."
"Then you give me no choice, Leon," Ethan sighed. "During the uproar over Gwen's disappearance, I have discovered that Gwen bought a townhouse in Boston. She was planning to leave me once she secured Jane, wasn't she? I will have to see Judge Weimer and let her know that I was unaware that she planned to adopt Jane and that I never authorized or approved of it!"
"You do that, Ethan," Leon sneered. "You go to court and try to overturn that adoption! The judge will only have your word which means precious little! Did you forget that I was the attorney who processed the paperwork for you and Gwen to force Jane's adoption on Mrs. Crane right after she was born? Remember how I tried to talk you into getting a Russian orphan for Gwen and leaving the child in question with her biological mother? Because if you don't, I do! You would hear nothing of giving Gwen some poor child who needed a mother when you were so adamant about taking Mrs. Crane's child from her! I still have the documentation on file and I will present it as evidence that you always planned for Gwen to adopt Jane!"
"Yes, but Gwen lost all chance at adopting my daughter when she stabbed her mother and kidnapped her," Ethan reminded Leon.
"Yes, but you proved that Gwen did all that because she was suffering from a drug interaction," Leon purred. "Then you proved Mrs. Crane's unfitness as a mother when you claimed she drugged you and sexually assaulted you to conceive that poor child."
Ethan gaped at Leon.
"Unless you want to testify that you perjured yourself in court about the circumstances surrounding little Jane's conception," Leon continued. "Well, then what kind of man would that make you look like, Ethan? Either you are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome and fallen in love with your rapist OR you lied to the entire world, including Mrs. Crane, when you claimed that she raped your unknowing body. That you let her have her way with you, knowing that the obstetrician ordered her to refrain from having sex, so you jeopardized your unborn son to satisfy your baser urges!"
Ethan flushed a bright red at this.
"Sounds either sordid or stupid or both, don't you agree?" Leon asked pleasantly. "Either way, it doesn't make you look like father of the year! The court is already familiar with what an unstable little girl Mrs. Crane is. So, I'd back off on that crazy notion, if I were you, Ethan. Because if you don't, I will encourage Gwen to go scorched earth on you and take the Winthrop Family Law Firm over, fire your dumb ass and also go for complete custody of Jane, allowing you only supervised visits!"
"I see," Ethan said numbly, recognizing defeat when he saw it. "I guess we're done here."
"Not quite," Leon said, pulling out Gwen's divorce papers. "Sign the papers, Ethan. Sign them now and be done with it, so I can file them in court, because this is the best deal you can hope for under the circumstances."
With nerveless fingers, Ethan signed the papers and shoved them back at Leon.
"Thank you, Ethan," Leon said. "I'll show myself out."
As the door closed behind Leon, Ethan distinctly heard him mutter, "Putz!"
Ethan stewed in his own juices for several minutes. It was obvious there was no hope for a future with Theresa, because Gwen had secured Jane completely. He buzzed Valerie to get her to hire a private detective to find Gwen. Once he did, he was confident that Rebecca would convince Gwen to come back to him, at least for Jane's sake if not her own. He did not think this would be difficult for her to do, because the one thing he was sure of was Gwen's love for him.