Book: Open Heart (Choices)
Pairing: Dr. Ethan Ramsey x MC (Dr. Zyra Lewis)
Series Summary: There’s only so much Zyra can take. Ethan’s hot and cold behavior towards her finally reaches a breaking point. But it isn’t until Zyra receives some tragic news that leads to her making a choice. A choice to reach out to Ethan or to not. Does she CALL him or does she WITHHOLD the information? Her choice will create a different path towards the evolution of their relationship, one that will lead to either being with him or being without him.
Chapter 1 Summary: Zyra makes a decision about her relationship with Ethan. And she is finally able to tell him exactly how she feels. But her decision will set the tone for what is to come.
Author’s Note: This series is inspired by the “Sliding Doors” narrative structure, where one choice can lead to two separate realities. I finished a book called “Anything You Do Say” by Gillian McAllister, and she follows this same narrative structure. Thus, I was inspired by it and wanted to try something new by using this structure in the first person.
Rating: Teen+ (adult content, angst, fluff, discussion of death, sensual moments, language)
Word Count: 3021
Ten, Eleven… Fifteen.
They’re all here. I want to ensure that I return the journals in the exact condition and number from when Ethan lent them to me. I can imagine his reaction if he notices something out of order or missing.
This is the last time I trust you with my things.
He’d give me his usual stern look, one reserved for expressing his disapproval. But all I would need to say is one thing.
You can decide how I can make it up to you.
His eyes would then crinkle at the corners, and he would give me an amused smile. Our little interactions like these are something I secretly look forward to. Because they show that he is feeling something there. Something for me.
I walk through the glass door to his office. It automatically closes behind me. A slight chill from the air catches between the door and tickles the back of my neck.
Ethan is staring at some CT scans hanging on the board.
“Good morning, Ethan.” I place the stack of journals on top of his desk.
He doesn’t respond. I always know when his mind is turning and he’s disappeared into his thoughts.
I stand next to him. My hands are in the pocket of my lab coat, and I look at him from the side. His arms are folded across his chest. His brows are pulled together in a frown. His gaze is laser-focused on the scans in front of him. His eyes glide over the images as if soaking up pieces of information for his brain to put together. To decipher. That’s my Ethan Ramsey. The doctor of mysteries. But perhaps calling him mine is too presumptuous.
“I returned your journals. Fascinating readings.”
“Cardiospasm.” His mind has shifted to me. His voice is serious, instructional. But I smile at what he is doing. He continues, “Dysphagia. Mild to severe chest pain. Regurgitation. Coughing. Weight Loss.” His gaze moves from the scans towards my direction. “Need any more clues?”
“A rare disorder of the esophagus. Leads to the inability to push down food due to the failure of the lower esophageal sphincter to relax.”
I catch the corner of his mouth quirk up at my answer.
This is a little game that we play. I call it a game. He calls it a required assessment of my walking disease encyclopedia. He can deny it all he wants, but it’s a game because I give it to him right back. Though I have yet to stump him.
Before I can recall and verbalize a disease I had read in one of the journals, the satisfaction on his face has already dissolved. His hard focus is back on the scans. I study them with him. They are of a patient’s head and neck.
“What would this patient do if this team were cut?” He asks without diverting his gaze. But his expression becomes sullen. There’s a lingering sadness in his tone. I can almost hear a sigh forming in his throat.
I place a hand on his arm. The gesture forces him to turn his head to look at me. I am now staring into the same sorrowful eyes with which I alone am trusted. Ones that I had become quite accustomed to during the entire situation with Dr. Banerji. Ones that made my heart slowly break over time. Ones that allowed me to see deep into the secret pain he longed to keep hidden from the world. Ones that urged me to not leave him alone.
I give his arm a squeeze. “We will beat this. We will find a way to keep this team together for patients like this one. And this is something we can control. We won’t go down without a fight, Ethan.” I then slightly lean towards him and whisper as if I’m sharing a secret, “And I know you won’t.”
His arm slowly falls to his side. I feel his fingers entwine with mine with his thumb caressing along my knuckles. We lock onto each other’s eyes. I know he’s contemplating every word I just said. I can see it in the way his pupils subtly dilate while he looks into mine, searching for reassurance and comfort. And like always, I give it to him without hesitation.
But my focus on him is cut when I hear the door slide open. We quickly pull apart.
“Are those the scans from the new patient?” I turn around to meet Baz. June is walking in behind him.
Ethan clears his throat, hiding the vulnerability from mere seconds ago behind the now serious and composed leader of this team. “Yes. I will get you all up to date.”
We follow our same routine of brainstorming ideas and feeding off of each other’s questions. I am feeling more confident in the quality of my participation with the team. We brainstorm and theorize for about 30 minutes before Ethan sets us off on our assignments.
“I’ll get those blood tests ordered.” I begin to follow the other two team members out.
“Lewis, stay a moment. I need a word.”
Baz and June have already gone, leaving me alone once again with Ethan.
“We need to talk.” Ethan has moved to his desk. He motions towards the seat in front of his desk, and I take it.
“About the patient?” I place my hands in my lap.
The way he says those two words feels ominous. I begin to clutch my coat, feeling the material fold between my fingers. A sudden sinking feeling teases inside my stomach. He folds his arms across his chest. Clear evidence that he’s trying not to be in a position to reach out across the desk to me in any way.
“I can’t do this anymore, Zyra,” he sighs.
“We almost got caught again for being too close. We need to set boundaries from now on. And strictly follow them.”
“I thought that’s what we’ve been doing. I mean I think we’ve been doing pretty well within our boundaries.” I give him a flirtatious smile. I expect him to return one to me with a witty response.
I was wrong.
He pinches the bridge of his nose. Frustration nearing anger hints on his face and I’m not sure if I am ready for whatever is about to explode. My smile drops.
“Your touches. You can’t keep touching me. Neither here nor outside the hospital. And the looks and the flirting. We can’t go back. I’m serious about putting your professional development before any of… this.”
And there it is again. Calling what he had–have–a this.
“I’ve been trying hard to resist you. I need to be able to resist you like you need to be able to resist me. If Mirani or Hirata found out about us in any way, that will be a detriment to this team and to your growth as a doctor. I can’t jeopardize that. I won’t. Do you understand that?”
And there he is. The Ethan I know so well. The one who just wants to continue pushing me away by repeating his same reasoning like the little conscience in my head flashing bright red ‘danger’ signs every time I’m in Ethan’s vicinity. Perhaps I’ve been reading him wrong this entire time. All the subtle looks and touches, the flirting, and our small moments of togetherness were things I thought were helping us get through this. All of these subtleties of expressing our feelings for each other made me feel as if he was still here with me even though I knew we couldn’t have the type of relationship I want or crave from him. And I know he feels it too, so I thought.
In this situation, I would usually concede and leave with my head bowed. Trying to agree with him and see the logic to his words. But right now, all I feel is anger growing in the pit of my stomach. Perhaps it is me, not him, that is to explode. And by explode, I mean releasing the built up feelings I have been holding back ever since I found out he was in the Amazon.
I can feel my face turn hot. My hands begin to curl into fists. My body tenses. I feel as if I’m about to spring forward across the desk at him in a rage I hadn’t felt since he left the first time. But this time, there is no going back. There is no real solution. There is no hope. How can I fight for someone who doesn’t even want to fight for me? And that’s the part that hurts.
He doesn’t even want to fight for me as much as I’ve tried fighting for him.
With that thought now in the forefront of my mind, the anger fully releases into words that fly towards him like arrows towards a target. And I hope they pierce through the bullseye each and every time. Swift and painful.
“You act as if you’re so conflicted. But you know what? You’re a fucking coward, Ethan.” I feel the anger flicker in my eyes. “You act as if you’re doing this for me, as if you’re making some huge sacrifice.”
I stand up from my chair, hearing it meet the floor behind me. I splay my hands across the desk and lean forward against it. My eyes bore into his.
“I am so tired of your bullshit. I’ve tried to understand. I really have, but how can I when all you do is run away and make me feel as if I’m nothing but disposable,” I begin to seethe.
His eyes widen at my words.
“I don’t get it. We both felt happiness together. I know I’m not making this up. Have you ever stopped and asked yourself how this could work instead of assuming that it won’t?”
I stare at him with reproving eyes. His mouth is slightly parted as if he wants to respond but lacks the ability to because of the shock of my words. He’s motionless. His body appears stiff as he continues sitting in the same position with his arms crossed.
“You tend to make all of the decisions here, Ethan, and by god, this will be the last time. I’m making the decisions now. And frankly, I’m done! I’m done feeling this way.”
Ethan begins to stand, eyeing me with confusion. He takes a few steps around the desk towards me.
I can feel my eyes begin to sting.
“Don’t!” I spit out the command, as I hold up a finger at him. He stops about a couple of feet away from me. “You’re always doing the talking. Now you’re going to listen.” I jab a finger into his chest on the stress of you’re. He grabs my wrist, an obvious sign that I am too aggressive in his personal space, but I yank it away.
“I’m tired of you being hot one moment and then cold the next. I’m tired of you needing me when it’s good for you, but pushing me away when it’s not. I’m tired of feeling as if I’m nothing to you. I’m tired of feeling as if I’m someone who’s so easy to erase from your life. I’m tired of feeling used by you. I’m tired of feeling like I’m just one big mistake to you. I’m so damn tired of it all.”
I see his head begin to subtly shake ‘no’ as his eyes widen even more. I take a deep breath, fighting back my tears as I stand my ground. My face feels hot. My fists clench more and tremble at my sides.
“I’m done waiting for the day that you’ll finally let me in, but now I know. That day will never come. Not with you. There’s only so much I can take from you, and I deserve better than this.”
I hear a faint gasp escape his lips. His eyes cast down to the floor at the space that now separates us.
“You’ve been taking me for granted all this time. In the end, you’re just a selfish coward who runs off when things get hard… like your mother.”
His eyes dart back up to mine. Hard and narrow. “Don’t you dare compare me to that woman!”
“And here I thought she meant nothing to you.”
I can see it now. The cold, hard eyes. The flaring nostrils. His lips pinched together into a scowl. The drawing in of slow, steady breaths. But I don’t let him intimidate me. I glare back at him with my own hard and scornful look, even while my heart shatters within.
“I believe, Lewis, you have patients to return to.”
The way he spits out my name is like him trying to rid himself of a disease on his tongue. A disease that had festered so long that he would even take a knife to sever his tongue from his mouth if that is what it would take to never speak my name again. I hide the hurt it makes me feel. I ignore the nauseous sensation, the rapid pounding in my head, and the oncoming dizziness as I continue looking him dead straight in the eyes.
“My pleasure, Dr. Ramsey.”
I then turn and leave. I don’t even look back through the glass door as it closes behind me. I continue walking as composed as possible past colleagues in the corridor. Once I reach the elevator, it is empty. I enter and immediately hit the ‘stop’ button. I then fall against the wall, a hand over my mouth, as I begin to hurl my pain out in long, aching sobs.
My friends want to relax at Donahue’s after work. I make the excuse that I’m tired and prefer to head home instead. I walk with them to the bar, since it’s on the way to the T. Bryce tries to persuade me by offering me to buy me a drink. Elijah invites me to do some karaoke to relieve us both from our stressful days. But after what happened today, the alone time is what I need. Sienna. Elijah. Aurora. Jackie. Bryce. I’m sorry.
I watch them disappear into the bar. A part of me tries to peek inside to see if Ethan is at his usual spot. I can’t tell. But I soon curse myself for even wanting to get a glimpse of him like some masochist.
There really isn’t much to say when I can’t even remember how I got home or how I am now lying on my bed in the dark. I probably was going through the motions as my head replayed the incident with Ethan countless times. My feelings have been changing between anger and regret. Anger towards everything that man has made me feel and regret for everything I said. But it’s all connected by an indescribable sadness of loss.
Have I lost him for good? The man to whom I could never say ‘I love you’? He never even gave me a chance.
The anger is back.
The apartment is quiet and I have the drapes drawn to keep the outside light from sneaking in. But a bright light shines next to me, accompanied by a ringtone. I feel my heart jump. A part of me hoping it’s him. Yes. I am definitely a masochist.
But it’s not him. It’s my mama.
Of course it’s not him. He’s probably almost to Antarctica by now. What’s further than that? I’m sure he’s planning on how to get far away from me as quick as possible. I wouldn’t be surprised.
I look at the time and it’s 9. It’s not usual for mama to call me at this hour on a weekday.
I don’t hear her distinguishable Hey, baby. It’s mama. Instead, I hear deep breathing with sounds of sniffling. She forces herself to finally speak and what she tells me couldn’t have come at a worse time. I ask her to repeat what she just said, and the truth finally becomes real.
Papa is gone.
I cry with her. I listen to her explain what happened. I cry with her some more. I ask how she’s doing. I ask about my brothers. I ask about the funeral. All I can say is “I’m coming home now.”
I hang up. But I don’t notice my phone trembling in my hand. But I can feel my heart beating in my throat. I’ve lost patients before. But I have never lost someone this close to me. Someone whose blood runs through my veins and whose love and support pushed me to excel in life. It was my family that helped me get where I am today. But now there is one less. My papa. And that nausea I felt from earlier returns and forces me to race towards the bathroom.
It’s nearly half past 10 now. I’ve booked a red-eye flight to Colorado. But I don’t know how long I’ve been staring at my phone in shock through tear-filled eyes. Without much thought, my thumb scrolls through my contacts and stops on his name. He is someone I could always go to for anything regardless of the circumstances. We trust each other. Care for each other.
Trusted. Cared for. Past tense now. It is what he wanted after all.
After what I said, there is no way I can reach out to him now. But my heart knows that I yearn for it more than anything. His gentle caresses along the back of my hand. The tender and lingering kisses against my cheeks and lips. The warm comfort of his strong, protective arms around me. I just need his shoulder to lean on like he’s always had mine.
Papa is gone forever. But Ethan is not. Or have I truly lost him too?
Should I call him or should I do what he does best, disappear and withhold this from him?
My thumb hovers over the call button.