The Return (WITHHOLD)
Book: Open Heart (Choices)
Pairing: Dr. Ethan Ramsey x MC (Dr. Zyra Lewis)
Summary: Zyra returns back to Boston. She and Ethan finally have to face each other.
Rating: Mature (language, sexual content, 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: 4334
The flight back feels longer than the flight to Colorado. Usually the return flight should feel shorter, but perhaps it’s more due to what is awaiting me back in Boston.
I’ll have to face Ethan eventually. It’s inevitable.
There’s also a part of me that isn’t ready for all of the outpouring of pity, even if well-intentioned. The looks. The I’m sorrys. The expectant touches of comfort. I just want to return to work, to my patients, to my friends without this extra complication. Hopefully, it won’t last more than the day I return to Edenbrook.
I stare out the window as the plane descends over Boston. The visual microcosm of the city begins to disappear as the buildings, roads, and cars grow larger in view. I can now make out individual trees at Boston Park. I had left from here without much of a care. But now as I take in everything that makes up the place I live, I realize how much I’ve missed it. It’s my home. It has become my home.
I’ve been away from my Boston home longer than planned.
Auntie and Uncle had to leave a day after the wedding because Artie had to return to school. So I decided to stay a few extra days because Mama has become severely depressed since the funeral. With the busy week past us and the funeral now over, Mama has had time to let herself linger on her feelings and truly grieve. Her losing the love of her life has been nothing but debilitating for her, and it’s as if she really isn’t there, locked away inside her mind fixating on Papa, obviously.
It wasn’t just for Mama but for Jacob as well. He still hasn’t spoken much, and usually keeps to himself in his room. But when Elliot and I tried to get him to come out and hang with us, he began to have angry outbursts. He’d push us away, sometimes quite forcefully, he’d yell at us to leave him alone, and he’d slam things like his bedroom door. Elliot took the scolding route that only made Jacob act out even more. I tried sitting down and talking with him about his behavior and trying to make it known that I understood why he’s angry. We’ve all lost someone special to us and we’re all trying to figure out how to cope, but being angry at us isn’t the way. Even my more empathetic approach didn’t seem to work. He didn’t appear to listen to what I was trying to tell him. And I’m sure now that I’m not there, Elliot has gone back to scolding him. I just hope he’s more responsible about it and doesn’t scold him for every little thing.
Elliot and I talked a lot, trying to come up with some kind of plan to help them, as we both have pushed our feelings aside to focus on Mama and Jacob. I had to return to continue my residency, but Elliot can work remotely. He was able to square things away with his boss, so we decided that he would stay and I would return back to Boston, helping in other ways. We’re still figuring that part out.
After the plane touches down, it doesn’t take me long to make it to baggage claim. I wasn’t paying attention when the flight attendant noted our carousel number over the intercom, so now I’m searching the arrival list on the screens for my number.
As I’m waiting for my bag, I finally turn my phone off airplane mode and see some texts from Elliot.
El: got mama to the kitchen for breakfast 👍🏾
El: Jacob went to school with no words as usual and slamming the car door. Fun times!
El: should we look into some counseling for them?
If it has been difficult to get Mama to even come down for breakfast, how could we get her to counseling, let alone find her someone decent? But that’ll be my job. I text him back immediately.
ZL: I’ll do some research and get back to you soon. Just landed.
I sigh in relief at the sight of my apartment. Just the thought of some alone time and sleeping in my own bed fills me with a sudden burst of anticipation. But then it’s drowned out by the guilt of having this opportunity, while Elliot is left managing all the heavy labor, without his bed, without his apartment, without David.
I thank the driver of the rideshare and head up to my apartment. My roommates should be at work, so I expect the apartment to be quiet and empty, giving me time to unpack and to mentally prepare for returning to the hospital tomorrow. And to Ethan.
God, I am dreading that meeting.
But the moment I open the door, I hear sounds coming from the TV. Leaving my bag and backpack by the door, I approach the living room and see Rafael on the couch playing one of Elijah’s video games. When he turns toward my direction, his character immediately dies.
I chuckle loudly. “Sorry about that.” I point to the screen.
Rafael puts the controller down and I go to sit next to him on the couch.
“Oh, it’s fine. I wasn’t really making much progress. How are you doing?” He wraps me in a tender hug, which I let linger, taking in a form of human contact outside of my family that feels both odd and comforting at the same time.
“I’m OK.” I slowly pull away, but my hand stays on his thigh. “I wasn’t expecting anyone to be here.”
“Elijah lets me play his games.” He drapes his arm across the back of the couch behind me. “I’ve been hanging around here on some days while I wait to hear back about my suspension.”
He shakes his head, but gives me a warm smile. “It’s OK. But Sora hasn’t been too thrilled about my suspension. She thinks I’ve been too careless with my life. I wish she’d understand.” His smile slips and I squeeze his thigh.
“I think we all just want you to be safe.”
“Yeah. Maybe.” He locks his gaze onto mine. “Anyway, enough about me. Your family doing OK?” I feel his hand enclose around mine.
“I don’t know, Raf.” I drop my head, not realizing how close it is to his shoulder. “But thank you for texting me, keeping me company. It really helped.”
I feel his fingers push back some of my straight locks—which I hadn’t had the time to wash out—behind my ear. My head then finally meets his shoulder, and I just lay against him in silence. His fingers still against my cheek. His touch is warm and inviting.
“I care about you, Zyra. I’m here if you need anything, OK?” His voice is low, but raspy. His breath when he speaks ignites the nerves under my skin, making me feel something other than sorrow and anger.
I tilt my head up against his shoulder, and I can see how close his face is to mine. His gentle expression wraps me up within a safe bubble, silently relaying a message that everything will work out in the end.
And I believe him.
His soft but lust-filled eyes guide me to him, and I slam my lips against his. My hands move up to rake through his hair, my fingernails scratching against his scalp. I hear him moan against our heated and passionate liplock.
I move onto his lap, straddling him. I already feel his need, hard and ready. I grind against it. His mouth opens against mine in surprise, and then pauses to search my expression for something. I press my aching lips to his again, giving him hopefully what he’s asking for.
I need this. I’ve been needing this so badly.
His hands roam all over my body, caressing the curves of my ass, sending sparks of electricity up my sides and back, until he grips the bottom of my shirt, pulling it over my head. I eagerly do the same, and toss his shirt to the floor at his feet. We continue kissing, my lips feeling raw but he tastes so delicious, so intoxicating that I can’t stop our dance. I don’t even bother to look at his bare torso, but I can feel his chiseled muscles as my hands explore him, traveling along every line, curve, and dip.
This unplanned passion-induced thrill doesn’t even give me a chance to feel self-conscious about my scrawny self, about all of the weight I have lost. When his fingers glide against the exposed bones of my ribcage or when his lips travel down my neck to the curves of my breasts peeking out from under my bra, I just push myself more against him and moan in satisfaction.
I cup his face, bringing him back up to me, as I want only to continue devouring him. His kisses slowly but temporarily are healing my concealed wounds. And for the first time in a while, I don’t feel the intense, crushing pain that has left my mind and body feeble and withering. I want to feel good, and he is making me feel a lost sense of gratification.
Don’t stop, Raf.
His skin is smooth against mine as we kiss. There’s no itchy stubble or facial hair to increase the pleasure of his lips pounding against mine. My arms don’t have to extend as wide to reach broader shoulders, where my fingers could claw into them for extra support. My hands don’t have to trail south for very long, unlike the longer, taut torso that when pressed against mine can pin me down and make me gasp in a heart-pounding, aching need. His hands don’t need to be larger in order to completely cup one of my ass cheeks or one of my breasts and squeeze it in the way that makes my body shudder. It also doesn’t matter that his thumb doesn’t trace my nipple in the way that I like or that his lips never move behind my ear hitting that one erogenous zone where I have to bite my lower lip to keep his name from escaping in a breathless utterance, or that his fingertips never do that circling motion against my inner left thigh that make my toes curl. And his bulge doesn’t need to fill the circumference between my legs as I move my hips against his, making me tempted to rip off his pants and finally take what I so long desire.
When I open my eyes, those dual jewels as blue as a clear summer sky in the daytime do not look back at me in hunger and longing in the way that excites me. Instead, they are an unfamiliar brown, kind and gentle, but unfamiliar in this intimacy.
When Rafael realizes that I’m no longer returning his kisses, he pulls back and looks at me baffled.
“Is everything OK?” He asks.
I slowly get off of him and look around for my shirt. It’s behind the couch. I quickly pull it back on and wrap my arms around myself, now becoming overcome with embarrassment and insecurity.
“I don’t think it would be a good idea if we continued.” I stay standing behind him as he bends over to pick up his own shirt.
“Yeah. I’m sorry.” He stands up and slips on his shirt, grabs his jacket and puts it on.
“With everything going on, I just think we’d be doing it for the wrong reasons. And Sora…”
It’s hard for me to look in his direction. He doesn’t say a word as he leaves. I only hear the front door open and then close with a soft click.
I sink onto the couch, my entire body goes limp. I made a terrible mistake. Not just because I made out with him, but because I helped him cheat on Sora. If I needed sex so badly, I should have gotten it from someone else. But it wasn’t really about the sex. It was more about my vulnerability and feeling comforted. In some way, was I using him? And then I can’t help but recall how my mind immediately went to Ethan and the way he knows exactly what to do with my body. A part of me feels as if I cheated on him too even though we’re not together in any way. It just shows he’s harder to get over than I realize, and that his is the only touch and comfort that I truly long for. Am I now going to compare every man I’m with to him for the rest of my life? Am I ever going to be able to have sex again?
What the hell is wrong with me?
I can’t help but notice what is left behind on the TV screen. The screen is black except for some bold words in crimson.
That sounds fitting. Those words sum up everything recently.
Have I now also killed my relationship with Rafael?
In our last email exchange, Dr. Banerji told me to come in an hour early. Ethan and Zaid are to meet with me to help me get caught up before my shift. Thankfully, I won’t be left alone with Ethan. Perhaps it won’t be so awkward seeing him again after all. Zaid could be our unintentional buffer.
I make my way to Ethan’s office, but as I approach the door, it doesn’t slide open as it usually does. I back up and try again. Still nothing. I try to look around inside. I don’t see anyone, but I also can’t see the entirety of the office. I then try knocking on the glass. With no response of any kind, I pull out my phone to note the time. I am 20 minutes early. Perhaps he’s not here yet. But when I look up, I see that familiar figure come into view.
He has stopped in front of the door. His hair is disheveled. His beard has grown a bit longer. His face looks fatigued. He’s in his usual work clothes of his dress shirt and slacks, but no tie or shoes.
I see how wide his eyes have gotten. His mouth is also agape. But I realize that mine are too.
There’s only the glass door now separating us and our reunion.
He pats his pockets and then holds a finger up at me. He disappears off to the side where I can no longer see him.
I immediately feel my pulse speed up. The air around me seems to turn hot, and I wipe my forehead with the back of my hand.
Ethan reappears, fumbling with a set of keys in his hands. He’s also now wearing his shoes. I take a step back as he works the lock on the door. My breathing becomes heavy as I wait, knowing that once that door opens I will have to finally interact with him for the first time since my angry outburst.
I feel the cold air blow in my direction as the door finally opens. We just stand there still looking at each other with an obvious hesitation on who should speak first or what should be said. I muster up some courage and break our awkward silence.
“So you keep the door locked now?” I ask, the edges of my lips curling up.
I see the tension in Ethan’s shoulder leave and his more serious but shocked expression softens slightly.
“New policy.” He doesn’t return my subtle smile, but I can see a lightness in his eyes. “Um, come in.”
He runs a hand through his hair and goes back to his desk, picking up a stack of files that he places on the conference table.
“Why don’t you begin looking through these. I’ll be right back.”
He takes a quick leave, as I’m just left there standing alone in his office. Perhaps awkward isn’t the best word to describe our interaction. I look around and notice papers piled up on his desk, and clutter spread out around his couch. His laptop is on the floor beside the couch. Some empty wrappers of beef jerky and nacho cheese Doritos packets and a half empty bottle of water lay next to it. I clear up the trash and then place the water bottle and laptop on his desk. I also pick up his white coat that was laid out on the couch. His tie is hanging out from one of the pockets. I go to hang the coat on the back of his chair.
Ethan, are you OK? What is going on with you?
I take one more look around, trying to find anything else that seems out of place. When I don’t, I then do as he said and take a seat to begin going through the patient files. I’ve just about finished reviewing them when he returns. His clothes look fresh, his hair no longer unkempt, and he looks more awake.
He tosses a bag of jerky on the table.
“Perhaps you should eat something,” he comments, while making his way across the office to his coffee maker.
My face begins to burn. If I touch it, the heat would probably bilster my hand. Of course he’s noticed how thin I’ve gotten. I can’t help but feel embarrassed. I timidly open the bag and grab a small piece, nibbling on it like some rat.
“Do you want a cup?” He offers.
His special coffee? He’s offering me his special coffee? Perhaps things won’t be so bad after all.
“Sure,” I politely answer.
He brings back two mugs to the table and hands me one before he takes a seat next to me. We sip on our coffees without another word exchanged between us. As I take another sip, I continue reading the patient file I have open in front of me.
“I-I’m sorry to hear about your father.” He sets his mug down.
The taste of the bitterness of the coffee leaves my mouth when I hear him. And for a split second, it’s as if I can taste him. Perhaps it’s just his scent wafting towards me and affecting my olfactory, which in turn affects my taste receptors.
“Um, thanks.” I hesitantly turn my head to catch him looking at me.
“How are you?” He continues with a tenderness laced in his question.
I put my mug down, giving me a brief moment to figure out how to respond. I don’t know if this is the same Ethan I can confide in. If it were, I would tell him everything. But I know it’s not the same Ethan anymore. Not after what happened, so I keep my response simple.
“You know, taking it one day at a time.” I blink a few times as my gaze travels around him until it settles back on his face. He’s still looking at me with a look of concern. I think it might be concern, but maybe I’m seeing what I want to see.
I sense hesitation from him due to the way he searches my expression, the way his shoulders appears more tense, and the way his fingers slowly move against his thigh.
He then gets up and picks a file up from his overcrowded desk. But he stops.
“Did you clean up in here?”
“Sorry. I kinda got used to cleaning up after my family back home.”
His head shakes, but because his back is to me, I can’t tell if he’s amused or annoyed. I hear a low, muffled chuckle from him.
So, amused then?
He returns to me, taking the same seat. If he were amused, I wouldn’t have been able to tell from the habitual seriousness plastered across his face. He sets the file in front of him, leans back in his chair, and crosses one of his long legs over the other.
“I know that you’ve been through a lot recently, so please consider this conversation strictly professional.”
He slides the file to me. I can only give him a bewildered look before I open the file and begin to read it.
“What do you see?” He asks.
Is he testing me or something?
I read the patient’s name, dates of admission and discharge. Past medical history. Reason for the admission. Symptoms. But then my eyes dart back up to the name before I continue reading. Gwenyth Monroe.
I feel an anxious knot settle in my stomach. The air has become hot again. It’s so hot that I begin to pull on the collar of my scrubs.
“It’s the influencer I reached out to,” I say without looking over at him. I keep my focus on the file.
“Ethan, um, Dr. Ramsey, I can explain.”
“There’s no explanation needed. I understand why you did it.”
In shock, I finally turn to look at him. I was expecting him to sound angry. I was expecting harsher words. I was expecting some type of scolding like during my intern year.
“I will admit that I was furious you went behind my back. I honestly felt betrayed. But then I realized something.”
“You’re no longer an intern, Zyra. And you’re not just a resident. You’re now my colleague, my equal. We’re not always going to agree on everything and I need to remember that.”
“But in all honesty,” he continues, “I should be thanking you.”
“You made the hard decision that I couldn’t.”
My body turns to face him. I lean slightly forward and place my hand on his knee without even realizing that I have. It’s one of those instinctual habits I’ve always had with him.
“But it wasn’t a hard decision. You’re the one who taught me that our patients always come first. We’ll always be vindicated in the end when we do. I was fighting for them in any way that I could. And this was one way.”
And then my body is triggered by a soothing warmth that my senses recognize as something so natural, so healing. His hand is now on top of mine. But maybe I’m just letting my guard down. It can’t be this easy.
“I know,” he simply agrees. He begins to gently caress the back of my hand like he used to.
I feel a blush come on and I slightly lower my head. But I feel Ethan hook the loose strand of hair that’s hanging against the side of my face behind my ear.
“You’ve changed your hair.”
I sit straight up and swipe the hair further behind my ear. I have my locks pulled back in a ponytail, but some in front have remained loose due to their shortness.
“It’s a long story.”
“Hopefully, you can tell me the story one day.” I then see that radiant smile of his, and I begin to question everything.
Just these simple gestures confirm why I couldn’t go all the way with Rafael yesterday. They also remind me of the reason why I blew up at Ethan. And I don’t know if I should feel regret for blowing up at him or regret for allowing myself to have this closeness with him again. But one thing’s for certain: our supposed professional conversation has turned quite personal. This might be a good time to bring it up.
“So Ethan, about what happened between us—”
“We can talk about that later,” he cuts me off.
I nod and try to avert my gaze from his, returning to Gwenyth’s file. But there’s something in the file that grabs my attention. I have to reread it multiple times for it to finally register. Perhaps I need to grab Ethan’s glasses to see if I’ve read this right. But the truth makes me burst out laughing uncontrollably. I can’t remember when I had a real, honest laugh, one where I could feel my stomach muscles aching.
“Taenia saginata?” I ask as I try to calm down. I can feel the tears settling along the edges of my eyes.
“Yes,” he responds nonchalantly.
“Poor Gwyneth! A tapeworm out of all things.” I erupt in laughter again. “Sorry. Sorry. But I don’t know if I should be sorry for going behind your back or finding this hilarious.”
Ethan sighs. “Rookie…”
“Sorry. Sorry.” I wipe at my eyes. “I’m done. Promise.”
After finally calming down, Ethan begins to catch me up on our patients. He answers the questions I had mentally listed while reviewing each file. He also explains the result of Gwyneth and how her case influenced the Board to make the team bring in more wealthy patients in hopes to help save the hospital.
I have hope too. I have hope that Ethan and I will be able to work past what happened and move on. And I also hope we will finally figure out our feelings for each other.
We continue our discussion over delicious coffee and rubbery vending machine jerky as we wait for Zaid. I don’t know how this morning has turned from the anxiety-induced interaction I was heavily expecting to the tender, intimate one. But there’s still a little voice inside my head questioning some of my fears.
I shouldn’t give in too quickly. Not until we talk.
But I try to ignore it for now.
Perhaps I was wrong about him the entire time. Perhaps I overreacted. Or perhaps my words made him truly assess how he had been treating me. Or perhaps being apart helped him truly understand his feelings for me. Or perhaps he’s acting this way because I lost my father.
Whatever the correct answer is, all I know is that after all the recent loss and grief, at this very moment, I feel as if I have my Ethan back. So perhaps the day won’t be as insufferable as I had imagined.