Book: Open Heart (Choices)
Pairing: Dr. Ethan Ramsey x MC (Dr. Zyra Lewis)
Summary: Zyra isn’t the only one whose choices will affect the outcome of her and Ethan’s relationship. Ethan also has to make his own decision.
Rating: Teen+ (language, adult content)
Author’s Note: Beginning with this chapter, this series will include chapters from Ethan’s POV. His chapters will include his POV from both the CALL and WITHHOLD paths.
Previous Chapters: Open Heart Fic Archive (see Series)
Word Count: 5473
My fingers still against the trackpad of my laptop. The cursor on the screen hovers over a blue, rectangular button. A single word in white sits in the middle, giving an obvious contrast for readability.
My eyes return to the first letter after they reach the last one, never stopping to move anywhere else on the page. Eight simple letters are strung together to give a simple meaning that never held much prior importance. But as I sit here, I can only associate this word with one thing: my agony. This agony has felt like stones settling in the pit of my stomach. If I casted myself into the bay right now, they’d weigh my body down as I drowned and disappeared into the cold, dark, solitary depths of the unforgiving waters.
This single word repeats in my head like a nagging question that refuses to let me sleep and keeps me up late into the night. Only a half bottle of scotch could help alleviate the endless drumming of the thought in my mind. But lately, not even my own vice can help with my vulnerability composed of mostly fear and regret.
But this damn word continues to infest me like a parasite. This damn eight-letter word of pure hell.
A round trip flight to Denver, Colorado. A rental car to drive to Lakewood, Colorado. About a 30 to 40 minute drive from Denver. A hotel reservation for Le Meridien for two nights.
You’re a fucking coward, Ethan.
I toss the parking ticket into the glove compartment.
I place a hand on the steering wheel, while my other rests on my thigh, holding my keys. My hazards are still on, flashing. Even those don’t seem to be strong enough to take my mind off her and force me to leave from my illegal parking space out front of the Delta drop off.
All that lingers heavily in my mind is her pained expression. Those flecks of gold that swim within the chocolate of her irises flicker with life whenever she beams with happiness, excitement, and even satisfaction, turning her gaze into a sweet honey hue. They also crackle like fireworks when aroused and angry, like this morning. But they were snuffed out tonight, leaving only a darkened, monochromatic brown of an abyss. When searching her eyes, there was nothing there for me to hold on to. Nothing that identified her as the woman I know as Zyra Lewis.
The woman that I…
If only I could have somehow taken away her pain through osmosis while holding her. Or have had it seep through my fingertips when I caressed her cheek or placed my hand over hers. But that’s not how osmosis works in humans. Being around her makes me think illogically, even more sentimentally, which goes against everything I believe in.
Yet here I am, still sitting in my illegally parked car as my only thoughts collect around her. There’s a subtle ache in my chest that feels like a pinching of my muscles. I rub my hand over the area, trying to help alleviate this tension.
Tap Tap Tap
I jump in my seat, feeling my heart slam forward against my chest cavity. My fingers claw into my shirt, as if trying to catch my heart into the palm of my hand like a baseball into a glove. I glance over to the passenger side window and see that same airport security officer. The one who obviously left me that parking ticket.
He’s glaring at me. His mouth is turned downward and then opens into an exaggerated “O,” clearly uttering a muffled “Go”. His finger points towards the direction of the exit. He points so forcefully that it appears his arm will detach from its socket. I roll my eyes, hold a hand up at him, and put my keys into the ignition. After he takes a step back away from my car, I notice the smudges from his fingers left behind on my window. I punch the hazard lights button and return his glare with narrowed eyes before I pull out and finally drive away.
As I begin my exit from the terminal, I picture Zyra sitting alone at her gate as she waits for her flight with only the thoughts of her father to keep her company. Her hands are probably empty because she doesn’t have the thirst for a coffee nor the hunger to pick up a sandwich or her favorite Geysers fruit snacks to munch on nor the focus to read a book or a magazine, let alone a medical journal. I begin to picture myself sitting in the seat beside her, my arm draped across her shoulders as she leans into me for comfort. She would also have something to hold: my hand. And I would give her my hand and my comfort and anything else she needed without a second thought, while ignoring everything that was said between us in my office and ignoring all my rules that have kept me from keeping her close.
A sign approaches, which gives further directions. I could go left towards the freeway or I could go right to loop back around or head to the parking garage. My mind settles on the image of Zyra with that empty seat next to her and I turn my wheel to the right.
I find a place to park in the parking garage. In order to pass security, I will need to buy a ticket for the same flight. If the flight is booked, I’ll buy a ticket to who-really-cares where and find her gate information on the screens inside. After formulating my plan, I exit and lock my car. While approaching the elevator, I feel my phone vibrating in my back pocket.
It’s Naveen calling.
I stop on the curb right out front of the elevators. One opens with a young couple exiting. Their arms are around each other’s waists, smiling and laughing about possibly some experience one of them is relaying to the other. Perhaps they were parted for a while and they are trying to now make up for the time. Their smiles and laughter cease as they approach my direction. The man holds the woman closer, their pace quickening until they disappear behind the rows of parked cars.
Were they afraid of me? Perhaps if I wasn’t staring at them with a scowl due to my own frustrations. And I won’t dare admit that perhaps a bit of envy was thrown in there.
I can still feel the vibration in my hand. Remembering Naveen, I answer.
“I need to speak with you about your email regarding Zyra. Are you still in the hospital somewhere?” He asks.
“Not at the moment.” I glance at the elevator and then turn to look back at my car. “But I was returning now.”
I run a hand through my hair and close my eyes as Naveen continues talking. I pull my keys out from my pocket and begin the walk away from the elevators. Away from the airport entrance. Away from Zyra.
Once our conversation ends, I’m already back inside, the engine on and ready to go. That pinching in my chest returns as I can’t help but feel I am leaving her behind all alone.
I’m sitting across from Naveen at his desk, observing how his face falls, how he stares out into the distance as his mind must be on the news about the woman who saved his life last year.
“Poor Zyra,” Naveen says.
From either fatigue or sorrow, he lifts his glasses to rub his eyes with the combination of his thumb and middle finger before putting them back into place and meeting my gaze. His chest heaves with a deep sigh before he speaks again.
“How long does she predict she will be away?” He asks, his worried gaze still on me.
“She mentioned a week, but it could be longer,” I reply and bite the inside of my lip. “I’m sure she’ll contact me again. I’ll keep you updated.”
Naveen slowly nods. Our conversation moves into how to manage the situation and I assure him that I will take care of it all: reorganizing the team’s schedule and assignments, speaking with Mirani in regards to her residency requirements, helping with reassigning her patients. I’ll even take on some of her patients if need be.
But as we talk, I notice the way Naveen is looking at me. It’s not a look relegated to a boss or mentor, but to one of a father-figure. He’s grown concerned. Then he asks an unexpected question.
“Are you doing alright, Ethan?”
I give him a bewildered look, but I feel my entire body tense at the question.
I clear my throat. “Yes. I have a late night ahead of me. You should get home.” I begin to stand.
“Ethan,” he sighs, “I know how important she is to you.”
“She’s my resident, Naveen.” There’s a hint of annoyance in my tone. But that only shows that he’s struck a nerve that I’ve been trying to keep private.
I know where he’s going with this. He’s always assumed Zyra and my closeness was more than just mentor and mentee. But I have never given him any reason to confirm his suspicions, especially since he was the one who put her on my team as a junior fellow, creating even a more complicated barrier against whatever these feelings are for her. Now I’m not only her attending and mentor, I’m also her boss, and part of me resents Naveen for putting me in this position. It’s one of the reasons why I fled to help out with the epidemic in the Amazon. I needed time away from her, away from my feelings, so that I could return and be distant enough from them to continue being the mentor she needed, uninhibited by these romantic entanglements that crept up on us last year. But there’s a part of me that still wants her to the point of distraction. And right now, all I want to do is take care of her and be there for her like she has always done for me even when all I did was try to push her away. But that’s not something I want Naveen, my own mentor, to ever know.
He’s studying me now, searching my stoic expression for even the tiniest of cracks. I have to remind myself that he is a diagnostician like myself. I trained under him, and I still have something to learn from him every day. But a diagnostician is keen on observation. As he quietly takes me in, I know he is formulating a mental diagnosis of some kind.
He clasps his hands on the top of his desk and leans forward.
“If you need to take a couple of days off for any specific reason,” he finally speaks, “I will manage the team in your stead.”
I feel as if his words are like a strong wind trying to lay me flat, but I maintain my posture. “I have no reason for taking any leave.”
“I’m only throwing it out there.” He smiles warmly.
“I’ll keep you updated on Lewis,” I state, ignoring his offer.
A couple of days later, I’m completing some discharge papers at a nurses’ station. It is for one of Zyra’s patients, a Mrs. Holloway whose symptoms I have diagnosed as being cellulitis. I have prescribed her some antibiotics and am adding a prescription with her discharge papers. But as I complete adding my signature to the prescription form, Trinh’s distinct bubblegum voice reaches my ears. My hearing immediately catches on to her words when I hear her reference Zyra’s name. I can see her from the side. She’s speaking to one of the nurses, Danny.
“The funeral’s on Saturday. She’s having a hard time, but she says she’s trying to be the strong one for her family right now.”
Danny doesn’t respond. Perhaps he’s responding nonverbally.
“Yeah,” Trinh continues, “she also said her mom kinda lost it at the memorial service. Like a full on breakdown. She’s worried about the actual day of the funeral. About her mom, really.”
Zyra is always the one to put others’ needs before herself. This makes me begin to worry about her own mental and physical health, which has more of a likelihood of deteriorating with the loss of a family member. I then remember how poorly I handled Naveen’s news and my lack of being able to diagnose him, knowing he was going to die. If it wasn’t for Zyra, I would have lost my family. And I don’t know if I would even still be practicing medicine.
I spend the rest of the day pondering Trinh’s words. She is Zyra’s best friend after all. She and Greene are the only two who know there is—was—something between myself and Zyra. They unfortunately caught me leaving that very morning after spending the night. It was the very last time we were together, right after she won her hearing. The happiness I felt during that night with her has stayed with me ever since. I’ve tried to dismiss it as being in the moment. But deciding not to leave that night and to stay sleeping beside her makes me reevaluate my excuse. I didn’t want to leave her even if there was a chance of being caught by her roommates. I didn’t want to leave that feeling of blissful peace that I haven’t felt in… My brain runs through my memories but it can’t seem to locate a source of evidence that even comes close to how I felt that very night with her.
This is what that woman does to me. She makes me feel something new, and my mind can’t seem to associate it with any previous experiences. My rational mind can’t seem to even categorize these feelings in order to make sense to them. And this is an added source to my conflict. Everything has to make sense. Everything. But with Zyra, sometimes I feel I struggle to find any logical explanation to how she makes me feel. I don’t know what this brilliant, beautiful, admirable, compassionate, strong-willed, stubborn woman is doing to me, but dammit, I long to be with her right now and support her like she supported me through Dolores and Naveen.
It’s the evening, and I’m currently staring at the screen of my laptop. It’s sitting on the kitchen counter as I wait for my marinated flank steak to finish grilling. I hold a glass of scotch in one hand as my other lingers over the trackpad of my laptop.
If you need to take a couple of days off for any specific reason…
I can’t blame Naveen for diagnosing me correctly. Even he could see how I ached to go to her in her time of need.
I’ve already filled out all of the information in order to reserve my plane ticket, hotel room, and rental car. I just need to click the button. I should text her first—I despise texting—but I don’t want to take the chance of her telling me not to come. Zyra and I have been through some heated arguments before, but we have always managed to find a way to make it right between us. Because if anything, there’s a deep trust that we share and I would be damned if we lose that. She wouldn’t have reached out to me if she didn’t truly trust me still. But I hope that this feeling of her needing me isn’t some egregious mistake of overstepping on my part. And after what happened between us, I hope I’ve not misread her.
But I won’t be a coward this time.
I gulp down the rest of my scotch and click “purchase”. But then I smell my steak burning.
It’s been challenging to focus all day, especially since after our heated argument, I haven’t seen her for the rest of the day. It’s already well past 9 pm. Because there were no new updates on our patients and no new incoming patients, I had no reason to page my team. And that meant I had no opportunity to see or interact with Zyra. But she usually comes in and works on some cases on the whiteboard. She didn’t come back into the office today.
It took me a couple of hours to finally calm down. A couple of hours worth of paperwork. I’ve always been capable of separating my professional and personal feelings at work. When I was with Harper, I didn’t find it much of a challenge because we were usually always on the same page about keeping our personal life private. And that included waiting until after work hours to discuss personal matters and act on our more intimate feelings for one another. Even when we were at head with each other, we didn’t use patient time to try to solve our personal issues. We saved that for over drinks or between the sheets.
But Harper is a surgeon. And that meant we didn’t really work together as often. It was easier to not let my emotions for her distract me because she wasn’t around. I may have called her in for a surgical consultation on a patient, but we didn’t work closely together like I do with Zyra. Zyra was my intern and now my resident and junior fellow on my team. I have no choice but to see her every single day. And that has become more of a challenge leading to an immense distraction on my part.
Things were simpler and more practical with Harper. Until she officially became my boss as the Chief. And that is what I must do with Zyra as the Head of Diagnostics. I am her boss now, and I wish she would have understood why we can’t explore whatever feelings are between us.
Everything she said to me from this morning runs through my mind. It pains me that she felt used and disposable. That was never my intention, but she doesn’t realize how much I too am angry and conflicted over our situation. She doesn’t realize the sacrifices that must be made to excel in this field. As a resident, she’s too young to understand this concept of sacrifice. I’ve lived it for almost a decade longer than she has. There are many things I may have missed out on in life, but I don’t regret my choices because I am where I want to be in my career. And I am damn good at what I do. I wish Zyra understood how I can see that same potential in her, how I am trying to bring it out of her by pushing her and challenging her every day. Being on my team during her residency—which is unheard of—is exactly the opportunity she needs to become the best diagnostician of her generation. I want that for her more than I want her for myself. That is the sacrifice I am willing to make if it means seeing her grow into her own doctor who continues fighting for our patients.
Her potential and her fight are what attracted her to me most of all. Ever since she helped me get Barbara to take her medicine on her very first day at Edenbrook, I knew I would not regret my recommendation that placed her in the program. And seeing how just this year, she managed to diagnose the Governor’s son just by looking at him, her brilliance surpasses all of our current residents. First, second, and third years. Her being brilliant is an understatement, and it only excites these unexplained neurochemical responses between us.
But now we are here.
The glass door slides open, and I lift my head from some budgets that I have been staring at for the past 30 minutes. For a quick nanosecond, I hope it is Zyra. It’s Naveen.
I take my glasses off as Naveen sits at one of the chairs directly in front of my desk.
“I’m glad you’re still here,” he states with a half smile.
“Where else would I be? It’s only…” I look at the time on my computer. “9:23. I’ll have my budget report for you before I leave tonight.”
Naveen gives a soft chuckle before his expression turns a bit more somber.
“That’s not why I’m here. Though I would appreciate it seeing as how we need it to address the cuts at the hospital.” He shakes his head. “Anyway, have you heard from Zyra?”
“Lewis?” I frown, hoping he doesn’t know what had transpired between us.
Naveen leans back into the chair, lays his arms against the arm rests, and then faintly sighs before he speaks.
“I received an email from her. Apparently, her father just passed away and will be taking some leave to tend to her family.”
I have the urge to jump out of my chair. “What do you mean her father passed away?”
“It’s quite sad, isn’t it? She’s leaving tonight so we’ll have to help her out by reassigning her workload for at least the next week.”
I don’t know how long I fixate on Naveen, my gaze going right through him. He sits quietly sometimes meeting my gaze and sometimes looking down at the floor.
“I’ll take care of it.” I break our long silence.
He leans forward and places his hand on top of my… fist. I hadn’t realized my hands were balled up against the top of my desk until now. The one under his relaxes.
“I know this is shocking. Are you alright?” He asks.
I nod and slip my hand away, letting it fall onto my lap. I then put my glasses back on and return my focus to my computer screen. “I’ll get this to you in an hour.”
Naveen doesn’t say another word. Once he exits, I click over to my email. There is nothing from her. Perhaps I missed a phone call or a text. I pull out my phone from my coat pocket. Nothing.
She emailed Naveen but not me? I had wrongly assumed that even under our most intense moments, we’d still turn to one another. But here I am with no email, no missed call, no voicemail, no text.
I feel a combination of anger and disappointment begin to boil up inside of me.
I still have yet to hear from Zyra, and I’ve contemplated reaching out to her. But because of the lack of communication on her end, it’s probably better not to. My worry for her has kept me on a short fuse these past few days. I snapped at Mirani (Zaid) when he asked me about Zyra during our meeting in regards to reassigning her residency duties.
“And why would I know? Ask the Chief.” I had barked at him.
I also haven’t been able to go home since Naveen told me. I’ve been falling asleep on the couch in my office, but I haven’t been able to sleep for longer than 30 minutes at a time.
This morning draws me into another day without hearing from Zyra. I’m lying face up on the couch, one forearm draped across my forehead, my other arm dangling off the couch with my hand skimming the floor, my feet hanging over the armrest. My white coat is covering my body like a blanket and my eyes squint open as the sunlight begins to peek through the horizontal windows that line the upper parts of the walls.
But an aggravating surprise saunters in. I catch Hirata using my coffee maker and taking ownership of my chair, as she sits there sipping on my coffee. She has come in early and never realizes I am lying on the couch quietly observing her until I have had enough of the sight of her complacency in my space.
“What the hell are you doing, Hirata?” My voice booms between the four walls of my office.
She quickly sets down the mug on my desk and springs up from my chair. After looking shocked for a moment, she tries to psychoanalyze the situation and me. I am in no mood and kick her out, locking the door behind her. Why do I always leave this damn door unlocked? I’m instating a new policy from now on.
I decide to go down to the gym to run a bit on the treadmill and exercise off some of this anger and stress so that I can better focus on my patients during today’s shift. But Lahela and Aveiro come in. It’s not Tuesday. Why are they even here? Even in the gym, I can’t seem to escape anyone. I’m not in the mood for our usual group workout, so I don’t acknowledge them. I just want to be alone so I can sort out all of these negative thoughts and feelings. But when I hear them beginning to talk about Zyra, I groan, yank my towel from where it’s hanging on the treadmill, and storm off into the showers.
Not even the sounds and sensation of the water streaming down from the showerhead can calm my erratic thoughts and the tight ache in the entirety of my chest. As I stand directly under the water, the long wet strands of my hair fall into my eyes. The water soaks my beard, with droplets dangling from the ends of the hairs and then falling around my feet. More water pools on top of my upper lip, and even more streaks my skin along the contours of my muscles. Something that should feel relaxing leaves me feeling only more tense and defeated.
I punch the wall, leaving a small crack in the white tile and a bruise along my knuckles.
I spend the day completing my usual routine of my team meeting with Hirata and Mirani (Baz) and managing our patients. The only difference is the lack of Zyra and my taking over a couple of her patients. On any other day, I would not have even noticed Zyra’s friends in the corridors, but they have seemed to appear only to add more weight to Zyra’s absence, filling up the space she has left behind. I see Greene coming out of a patient room with an intern, probably his own intern, while I’m completing a chart for Zyra’s patient at the nurses’ station. I nearly run into Trinh when I turn a corner. She gives me a quick “Hello, Dr. Ramsey” before moving on. If there was anyone to ask about Zyra’s status, it would be her, but I dismiss the temptation. Then there’s Varma with both her intern and Zyra’s who I run into in an elevator. Mirani had placed Zyra’s intern under Varma’s care until she returns. I stand off to the side and lean against the wall, not making eye contact and waiting impatiently for the elevator to make it to my floor. Thankfully, it finally opens. I pull on my tie to loosen it slightly as I make my way to my office. But before I reach my office, I grab some jerky from the vending machine.
Naveen comes in some time later as I’m working on a case on the whiteboard.
“I brought you a little something,” he tells me as I hear something being placed on the conference table near me.
My hand freezes in midair, holding a whiteboard marker. I turn my head and notice a plate of food from the cafeteria. A burger with fries.
“I thought maybe you could change up your diet for at least this week.” Naveen motions to my garbage can nearly spilling over with wrappers from the vending machine.
“I’m sure you have more important things to do than worry about my diet.” I return to writing on the board.
“It’s not just that. When was the last time you went home? Slept in your own bed?”
“I’ve been busy. As you can see, I’m down one team member.”
“Ethan, son, you’re starting to look like how you got when you were trying to diagnose me. The overgrown facial hair. The dark circles under your eyes. Trying to hold it all together. Should I go on?”
I feel all of the heat in my body rush to my chest. My jaw clenches so tight, I could very well crack a tooth. I can’t turn around to Naveen. If I do, I might end up confiding in him, and my complicated feelings regarding Zyra are not something I care to discuss. But it’s Naveen, and I should know better.
“I know how important she is to this team, to this hospital, and to you.”
He’s not so subtle, is he?
“This isn’t about her, Naveen. If you don’t mind, I need to work on this case before my next meeting.”
“Ok Ok, but do remember that our jobs lead us to creating our own families among the people here. You became mine and I would be there for you in a heartbeat for anything.”
I feel him squeeze my shoulder and then hear the door slide open and close. I slowly cap the marker and place it in the pen tray. I run a hand through my hair to collect myself, allowing the tension in my body from that entire conversation to dissipate. I focus on his implication of Zyra and I being family. He doesn’t know the strain in our relationship right now. He doesn’t know that we have had no contact since her father passed and how much I can’t ease the anxiety over not knowing.
But being there for her? How could I? Am I to go directly to Colorado, show up at her mother’s doorstep, and offer Zyra my shoulder to lean on for comfort and support?
I grab my laptop and take a seat at the conference table. The food Naveen left behind is only a reach away. I open Google and recall the only information about Zyra’s hometown, which is the name. I do a search for funeral homes in Lakewood, Colorado. There are ten results. I click on each of them and look through the list of obituaries until I find a man named Quincey Lewis. The picture no doubt is Zyra’s father. They have the same smile. But if I had any doubt, the following words give me all the confirmation I need:
Survived by Janet Lewis (wife), Elliot Lewis (son), Dr. Zyra Lewis (daughter), Jacob Lewis (son), Justice Lewis (brother), Nora Lewis (sister-in-law), and Artie Lewis (nephew).
They even included the doctor address for her.
The obituary also gives the date, time, and location of the funeral service. This Saturday. If I go down Friday, I could help her and her family with anything they may need. But I don’t know the address of her parent’s home. I try the online white pages, but there are no results. I could probably just show up at the funeral instead. I then begin to look for flights with add on reservations for a hotel and a car rental. As I near the end of the page, I leave the cursor over the “purchase” button.
Perhaps this is going too far. If she truly wanted me there, she would have told me herself.
I rub my chin as I stare at the screen. Then I unconsciously grab a french fry and pop it into my mouth. While I chew, I continue contemplating my decision. But then it dawns on me: I would only be causing her additional pain.
On the very day that she learned of her father’s passing, she had decided to end whatever was happening between us. And she made it very clear that she was done with me. Her angry and pained voice still rings in my ears. Her harsh but eye-opening words echo in my mind. The image of her glistening eyes on the verge of tears haunts my dreams. I did that to her. And if I show up, I will only hurt her again. Right now, the best thing I can do for her is to respect her privacy and her time of mourning.
I move the cursor to the top corner of the browser, click it, and watch as it closes. All of the information I found and entered for the trip vanishes with one quick click.
I drop my head into my hands, feeling my eyes sting and my throat burn. Was this how she felt when I left and never reached out to her? I truly am an asshole and a coward.
Dammit, Zyra. Please be OK. Please.