The Return (CALL)
Book: Open Heart (Choices)
Pairing: Dr. Ethan Ramsey x MC (Dr. Zyra Lewis)
Summary: Zyra returns back to Boston. She and Ethan may finally have to come to terms with what transpired in Colorado.
Rating: Teen+ (language, adult content)
Author’s Note: There are some story elements from Book 2 that are incorporated in this chapter.
Previous Chapters: Open Heart Fic Archive (see Series)
Word Count: 3569
He’s too easy to pick out from the crowd. His 6’4” frame towers over almost everyone that passes through the baggage claim. Alan, his father, was right. He could have played basketball. It isn’t only his height that makes him distinctive amongst the crowd, but also his green leather jacket that has a stark contrast with the darker, more winter colors of the crowd. His jacket color is more representative of the green autumn leaves as they begin to transition into their reds, oranges, and yellows.
He’s turned to the side next to the arrival screens. His bearded profile is in clear view as he’s looking up at the monitors to probably confirm my flight arrival.
I’m standing in a line of people on the escalator descending into the baggage claim area. The closer I near the bottom, the more I can feel every nerve in my body tingle, my stomach churn, and my chest fill with a constant, forceful thumping.
I can’t believe how much I’ve been anticipating seeing him again.
Before Ethan left that night after the reception, he offered to pick me up when I returned. I had walked him out to his car, leaving behind some of the few guests who lingered. Jacob was nearly in tears as he said his final farewell to his superhero-come-to-life.
But as the two of us stood there out on the sidewalk, we were both hesitant about the inevitability of him finally leaving. I could feel it in the way his hands gripped and lingered on my shoulders. The way his eyes searched mine for any type of response. A hug. A kiss. Something. It had been like that between us all day. There was some unspoken need but both of us were not ready to reach out to the other. But I ended that when I took his hand on the steps. And now, I needed his touch one last time.
I met his gaze, locking him to me. Our lips neared, but I hesitated and instead dropped my head against his chest, my face now hidden beneath a curtain of curls, and I clutched my arm against his back. I felt his arms pull against my body, almost reminiscent of our embrace on the night he took me to the airport. But this time, he caressed small circles across my back. And all I could hear breaking the silence of the night was the strong beating of his heart. It was fast and steady. I can’t remember how long we stood there, but the strength of his arms around me, the sound of his beating heart, and the smell of his natural, earthy scent like after a summer rain kept me from moving, from leaving him.
In the end, I did need him after all.
“Text me when you arrive and I’ll come pick you up,” he had told me.
I pulled back and gripped the lapels of his suit jacket, rubbing the material between my fingers as if I was trying to keep something of his for after he left. A memory of what he felt like, what he smelled like that day.
All I could do was nod in response.
I had to stay an extra week, so Ethan and I texted back and forth a few times since he had left. I not only had to inform him of my extended stay, but he also checked on me and my family from time to time. He’s not much of a texter, so I couldn’t help but smile at the thoughtfulness.
After a few exchanges of texts, I’ve now returned back to Boston with him almost within my grasp. And the closer I get to him, the more hopeful I feel about the possibility of an us. It’s the most hopeful I’ve felt since what had transpired between us on the day of learning of Papa’s passing. We’ve been through arguments and misunderstandings before. We can get through this too.
I feel an ache in my cheeks, realizing I have been smiling this whole time and for so long.
He turns in the direction of the large group of people arriving on the escalators. Myself included. His arms are crossed against his chest. His expressionless face searching the crowd for me until he stops. And in this moment, I’m close enough to see how his hardened gaze softens once it has reached mine.
Five more seconds is what I predict will be the time left before I reach him. I have five seconds to decide if I should greet him with a hug or reserve any physical form of affection. How I ache to bask in the comfort of his arms and feel the soothing hum of his breath against my skin.
I straighten my posture, rolling my shoulders to adjust my backpack.
I step off the escalator.
I bite my lip to keep myself from revealing a smile.
I see his arms fall against his side, as I find myself pushing through the crowd.
I don’t even think about it. I fling my arms around his neck and feel his arms wrap around me within the space between my lower back and my backpack.
“Welcome back,” Ethan whispers against my ear. I can feel the movement of his lips against it, sending my arms to pull him closer to me.
God, he feels so good.
I tenderly nuzzle my nose against his neck before I break our embrace. I stand next to him, as our arms return to our own bodies. I don’t know if he also feels it, but I have the need to stay close to him.
“Hi.” My voice squeaks, which brings an amused smile to Ethan’s face. I clear my throat and greet him again. “Sorry.” I feel my cheeks turn hot. “Must have been all those salty peanuts on the flight.”
His smile widens with a playful glint in his eyes. It gives me another sign of hope.
“Perhaps we should get you something to drink,” he offers, his smile remaining.
“Oh, that sounds good. It would give us a chance to talk.”
Ethan’s serious expression returns. “Yes, we do.” He pauses for a moment, with something obviously weighing on his mind. “But I need to return back to the hospital after I drop you off. I can get you something at the kiosk over there.”
I look behind him and see a seller with a selection of munchies and reading materials.
“That’s not necessary. I can wait until I get home.”
“Well, you’re number 4,” he says and motions towards the carousels.
As we wait for my luggage to arrive, he asks, “How are they? Your family?”
How are they indeed?
There were some things I had yet to tell Ethan. I kept it general in our texts. Mama is still very sad. Jacob’s been helping out a bit more around the house. Uncle and Auntie stayed a couple more days. Elliot went back home to Seattle and I have been keeping him updated.
But that wasn’t the full truth of the situation.
Mama was quite depressed. She still is. She hasn’t been able to leave the house, mostly her bed, on most days. This has made Jacob become her caregiver. He’s making things like mac and cheese and sandwiches, easy things I taught him. He’s also cleaning around the house. He tries to get Mama up to at least wash her face and brush her teeth. I’ve asked Laura to check in on them when she can. This made it difficult for me to leave them both, knowing I had to return to my obligations at Edenbrook.
As for Elliot, after Ethan had left, Mama and Elliot got into an argument over David. According to her, Elliot was shoving his lifestyle in her face. She didn’t take well to seeing them together.
“How could you do this on the day of your father’s funeral, you selfish boy!” Mama had yelled at him.
She then kicked them both out and Elliot never went back. Not even Auntie could talk reason to Mama that night. My anger towards my mama and calling her a homophobe also didn’t help matters. She didn’t speak to me for a few days after that, but once Uncle and Auntie had left, she began to open up to me again.
I’ve been the mediator between them both. Mama has asked about Elliot, but she doesn’t want to reach out to him. Elliot has been doing the same, understandably. I’ve been trying to find a solution to get them to at least talk, but neither of them want to make the effort. Now Elliot feels he has lost both of his parents all in one week. He’s currently trying to stay busy at work, coding for that new Dopey Cat game.
Ethan turns to me, awaiting my response.
Everything’s gone to shit. “You know, taking it one day at a time.”
I’m not ready to talk about it.
He nods. “And yourself?”
He gently touches my elbow, and I feel my body subconsciously move closer to him.
The carousel finally begins moving. He leaves my side and grabs my bag. He must have remembered what it looks like.
I smile. “Always the observant one. Thanks.”
“I am a diagnostician after all.” He returns my smile.
He wheels my suitcase behind him like before as we make our way to his car.
“So, I see you parked legally this time.”
“I didn’t want to appear too overzealous,” he remarks with a teasing tone.
“Well, I think I am overdue for some flattery.” I return his tease.
He stops in front of his trunk and turns to me. I notice his eyes roam over my face, but then he shakes his head with a wary smile. I immediately feel a sinking sensation in my stomach.
He’s being hesitant again, isn’t he?
It takes about 20 minutes to get to my apartment. On the way, with a concerto playing in the background, I converse with Ethan about my anticipation for returning to work, a much needed distraction. But most of the time the conversation is one-sided. He gives me a few, generic one- to two-word responses and filler sounds, his most common utterance being uh-huh. His mind appears to be elsewhere. Even his body looks stiff and unable to relax against the seat. Both hands grip the steering wheel instead of his usual one hand on his thigh, the other with only his fingers resting against the lower curve of the steering wheel.
What has changed between the airport and now?
He pulls up in front of my building, and before I can even thank him, he speaks.
“Zyra, we need to talk.”
Based on his driving posture, his lack of verbal interaction, and now these all-too-familiar doomed words, I begin to realize exactly where this is heading.
He puts the car in park and takes a deep breath, which makes his chest rise sharply.
“Is something wrong?” I ask him hesitantly.
He pinches the bridge of his nose. “Before you return to work tomorrow, you need to be aware of some changes during your absence.”
“Does the name Gwenyth Monroe ring a bell?” Ethan finally turns to me, his eyes hard. They match the rest of the serious lines that are now etched across his face.
My brain searches for the name, and then recognition finally hits. The social media influencer I had contacted right before I left. I had completely forgotten about her with everything that was going on. Now I feel my own body tense up. I swallow hard.
“Um, yes, she—”
“You deliberately went behind my back,” Ethan cuts me off. “I specifically told you no but you reached out to her anyway. Do you have any idea what position you had put me and the team in when she just appeared out of the blue?”
“Ethan, I’m sorry, but I was trying to find a way to save the team for our patients.”
“Well, thanks to you, the Board was quite enthusiastic and now they want us to bring in wealthy patients.”
“How is that a bad thing? We get to help the people who really need it while paying some bills along the way.”
“Dammit, Zyra.” He runs his hand down his face. “You still fail to understand how this undermines the overall principles and purposes of this team, the team Naveen built. And now, I just…” His head falls back against the seat with a soft thump.
“You just what?”
“With what you’re going through, I didn’t know how to bring this up without expressing my anger and disappointment.” I see his gaze lock onto the ceiling. “Everything is just so damn complicated. You, after all this, I can only see you in a complicated light.”
“What does that mean?” My body turns toward him defensively.
He sighs. “I don’t know. And whatever was happening again between us—”
“Oh my god,” I blurt out. The words make Ethan dart his gaze back to me. “I should have known. I am such an idiot.”
I begin to unbuckle my seatbelt, but my tone is more sorrowful than angry. I am not even shocked. I’m more disappointed, almost disgusted with myself. My words begin to come out like a planned speech I had practiced repeatedly over the course of the past two weeks. These are words that have lingered in the back of my mind, readying to come out in the fruition of my true fear. A harrowing cold fills my body, as if all of the blood has stopped circulating, leaving me with nothing more than the sound of my voice that indicates I’m still alive.
“I should have known better than to let you back in. And I was foolish enough to believe you. Again.” I open the car door. “I’m not going to blame you, Ethan.” My voice begins to tremble. “This is on me for thinking that your coming to Colorado actually meant something. That you actually cared about me.”
“Zyra, please, let me explain.”
“No, Ethan. I’m tired.” I hold a hand up to him and briefly shut my eyes. “I’m just so tired of all of this with you. We’re always in the same loop, aren’t we? And I believe we always will be with this exhausting back and forth that goes nowhere.” I step out of the car. My legs feel frail, but I immediately find my strength in both my voice and in my body. “So I’ll give you what you want. Erase and reset, right? Colorado never happened. See you tomorrow, Dr. Ramsey.”
I close the door, slamming it a little too hard. I begin to walk away when I realize that he still has my luggage.
I turn back around and see him with his head down. I knock on the window and point to the back of his car. It pops open.
After the embarrassing charade of retrieving my luggage and failing miserably at leaving with some dignity, I’ve finally made it back. But when I open the door, there’s nothing but a still chill in the air of the empty apartment. All of my roommates are on their shifts, and so without them, without my family, without Ethan, I am truly alone for the first time in two weeks.
I leave my luggage in the living room as I go to the kitchen. I see a handwritten note on the fridge.
Welcome back! There’s leftover pizza in the fridge. See you tonight! – S, E, A, J
My fingers run over the words. That’s Sienna’s handwriting. I begin to feel a warmth flood my body, helping slowly melt the icy cold that overtook it.
But part of you worries, deep down, that one day you’ll only have yourself to count on.
My hand drops from the note as my eyes widen at the random recollection of Ethan’s words to me from when he first took me to his secret coffee shop last year.
But he was right.
I lean against the refrigerator, sliding down against it to the floor. I pull my knees to my chest and drop my head onto my knees.
I’m losing my family one by one.
I let myself cry.
I open the curtains to my room, hoping the morning sunlight will do me some good for my mood. I take off my jeans with their knees currently stained with my tears. I slip on a pair of pajama pants and pull on the waist string. I let them hang low on my hip bones. Perhaps unpacking will help preoccupy my mind for a little while.
I unzip my backpack and begin pulling things out and putting them back in their original places. But there’s one thing I can’t let go of. I have it held in both hands. It’s a drawing of Captain American and Falcon that Jacob had drawn. It was supposed to be a present for Ethan. I even had my brother write a little note at the bottom and sign it.
We make the best team! I look forward to our next adventure. – Your Falcon and best friend, Jacob.
“Oh, buddy,” I whisper sadly to myself.
I open the bottom drawer of my desk and slip it in, hiding it away. But when I shut the drawer, my hand shakes.
I may have anticipated seeing Ethan yesterday, but not today. I decided to come in early in hopes to catch up on patient cases before I begin my shift, so my anxiety is eating through my stomach. When I enter Ethan’s office, Baz is already there.
His bright, welcoming expression is just what I needed to help ease my anxiety.
“Zyra! Welcome back!”
After a brief hug, he extends his condolences. I thank him and then ask him about Ethan.
“He had to attend a Board meeting this morning. He asked me to get you up to speed with the cases. He also hasn’t been in the best mood ever since the Board made us change our priorities. Just a heads up.”
“He blames me, doesn’t he?” I take a seat at the conference table.
“Not explicitly.” He tries to give me a comforting smile. “But he’s had a lot going on. He had to go out of town for a consultation for a few days. Then he came back to your surprise and had to deal with the Board. So, he’s a bit tense.”
A consultation? So Baz doesn’t know that Ethan was really in Colorado with me.
He then looks at his phone. “You also need to meet my brother in about an hour.”
“Right. I have a lot to catch up on.”
Baz goes over some cases with me, gives me more details about our new policy of taking in more wealthy patients, and updates me on everything I’ve missed. 20 minutes in and June comes. Her expression indicates that she is surprised to see me.
“Zyra, it’s good to see you.” June sits down across from me and Baz. “I’m sure you’ve heard by now what occurred while you were away.”
I give her a slow nod.
“But I have to admit, you challenging Ethan in order to find a solution for the team is quite admirable.” June gives me a friendly smile, well, it’s probably what she might consider friendly. I try not to take it personally, but sometimes I find her smiles quite condescending.
“You should have seen the look on his face when Gwenyth showed up,” Baz states.
“I’m sure I could imagine,” I respond, forcing a smile. “So what was she diagnosed with?”
Baz and June look at each other and then laugh. I look between them, my eyes are wide with my right eyebrow arched. But before they could even tell me, the door slides open.
“You’ve all welcomed back Lewis? Great. We’ve got work to do.”
Ethan enters, his steps heavy against the floor. But as he turns to address us, he has a noticeably different appearance. Ethan is no longer sporting his beard. He has returned to his stubble, which has given his strong jawline room to breathe again. But I can’t help but realize how his change is not subtle.
Really, Ethan? The day right after?
I glare at him. It’s as if the fire I feel in my eyes could literally burn a hole right through him. Thankfully, for June and Baz, any palpable tension between us could be attributed to Gwenyth, and not to this fucked up bogus relationship.
“Anything you want to add, Lewis?” Ethan asks with a sharpness in his tone.
There’s a lot I could add. For one, I could add how I was wrong. He’s not a coward. He’s nothing more than a prick. A huge prick who I have wasted enough of my tears and time on. But I bite my tongue.
“No, Dr. Ramsey,” I reply as calmly as I can.
He’s quite overzealous afterall. So passionate about trying to erase me from his life. He couldn’t be any more clearer. He had returned from the Amazon with that beard. When he asked my opinion on it—I loved it—he decided to keep it. And now—
Now I know where we officially stand.