The Breakdown (CALL)
Book: Open Heart (Choices)
Pairing: Dr. Ethan Ramsey x MC (Dr. Zyra Lewis)
Summary: Zyra’s always been the brave, strong, no-holds-barred fighter for everything and everyone in her life. But even she has a breaking point when everything around her continues to fall apart.
Rating: Teen+ (language, adult content)
Previous Chapters: Open Heart Fic Archive (see Series)
Word Count: 6133
A file shakes in my hand. But the subtleness helps me keep it hidden.
It’s been harder to ignore the tremor in my right hand but not too challenging to hide. A clench of the fist. A slip under my arm or in my pocket. A grasp at my wrist. A mental recitation of my mantra.
Thankfully, it hasn’t come at a time when I have had to be physical with my patients, especially during my clinic rounds. I’m sure a parent wouldn’t appreciate my causing further harm to their child as I pull a Lego block from their nasal cavity. I’ve been lucky.
So far anyway.
But I’m certain there’s one person who is keen on it, even though he hasn’t brought it up. Just the thought of him makes my sorrow shred my insides.
It’s not something for me to be proud of, but ignoring it is necessary in order for me to manage all of my priorities.
I can deal with it later. There are more important things for me to consider.
Though, it has gotten worse since I’ve returned to Boston. Its unpredictableness does cause me some worry. It chooses when to happen without my consent and the severity of the shaking is never the same. But I’m not clueless to the cause. With one disheartening milestone piling up one after another, it was inevitable.
Each new burden has begun to feel like an additional weight stacked on top of my chest, with each one incrementally increasing in pounds. My father’s death currently weighing the most. The heft of it all is slowly crushing my bones and rupturing my lungs and heart. At this rate, all my air and blood supply will be cut off, and I…
Maybe it would be better if everything just slowly faded away.
I shake the thought out of my head.
There are people counting on me right now. I can’t disregard their needs. And one of those persons is standing right before me.
I hand my intern the file and observe her as she skims over the information inside.
“How would you proceed?” I ask her.
“I would guess it’s related to a heart condition,” Esme finally responds.
“And what evidence leads you to this conclusion?” My teacher-mode is in place.
“Well,” she begins, looking back down at the file, “the shortness of breath and fatigue. There’s also the swollen feet and ankles.” She catches and holds my gaze, appearing confident in her next choice of words. “I would first speak with the patient and listen to them, as you’ve taught me. See if there are any clues in their story related to their illness. Then, I’d check for a murmur based on these symptoms.”
“And if there is one, what would you do next?” I begin feeling a bit light-headed when I ask the question, but I ignore it.
“Order a chest x-ray?”
“Are you asking me, or are you certain?”
“Certain. I would order the chest x-ray.” The confidence in her voice returns.
“Good,” I smile widely, giving her a thumbs up.
My pager then goes off, and I try to conceal my disappointment. “I’ll come back and check on you and the patient. But um, if you need me before then, just, um…” I narrow my eyes, almost squinting as the words to complete my sentence do not flow out easily. In fact, it’s as if my mind has hit a locked door, barring me access from all of my vocabulary and knowledge.
“Page you?” My intern asks.
I snap my fingers and point to her. “Yes, that.”
“Is everything okay?” She wrinkled her brow. “I know with your father passing and all—”
“I’m fine, Esme,” I cut her off. “I think you have a patient who needs you right now.”
I head in the direction of the source of the page—Ethan.
We haven’t spoken outside of work-related topics since I got back. In the past, I would have yelled or screamed at him, berating him and questioning his behavior. I also would have confided in him in times of need. That’s been our push-pull relationship, but it’s a relationship that no longer works for me and only creates more heartache in the process.
I’m not angry with him, which I should be. I’m just… trying to figure everything out right now. And this includes my feelings for him. I know he’s no good for me. I know that. But I haven’t yet been able to convince myself of it.
But even so, I’ve been trying to keep my distance because being around him too often hasn’t helped. I only go to his office when necessary—attending team meetings, asking questions and looking for guidance related to patient cases (letting him be my mentor), and responding to pages, like now.
When we are in the same room alone, I feel he’s trying to maintain a neutrality between us too. But I feel he’s still angry with me about the whole Gwenyth thing. The softness in his eyes when he would look at me has all but vanished, much like his beard. It isn’t even only that. It’s that I can’t read him anymore. He has appeared to have rebuilt his walls around himself with me. Thus, the brilliant, trustworthy, thoughtful, caring, and sometimes insecure Ethan I once knew—and loved—is gone. All that is left is the hardass Dr. Ramsey I met on the first day of my internship. And that was a man who scared me and pissed me off at the same time.
But I also loved that about him too.
I shouldn’t be surprised though. If there is one thing I have the most clarity about this man is that he’s a known wall builder when he has difficulty dealing with his feelings of any kind. It’s why he went to the Amazon for those two months and never even bothered to contact me. It’s also probably why he’s using the whole Gwenyth incident to keep from being close to me. It’s why even now, he’s hiding whatever he’s feeling behind a wall where the mortar has not yet fully dried. Once it does, I’ll be blocked for good.
And that’ll be the best for both of us.
When I enter the office, he’s sitting behind his desk, buried deep in paperwork. He looks up at me through his glasses and motions towards the chair in front of his desk. He doesn’t say a word while I approach and take a seat.
There’s an uncomfortable silence lingering in the air, but the unfortunate thing is that I’ve become used to it. It phased me at first, as I worried over what was going through his mind, believing he was cursing at our entire situation, mainly at me, and regretting placing me at Edenbrook in the first place.
I observe him as he writes something down in a file and then slides it towards me.
“You’ll be working with Hirata on this new intake.”
I reach out for the file, but I fumble it. I make a quick recovery and settle it on my lap. I clench my hand into a fist, hiding it under the file and hoping he hadn’t noticed.
“Edward Thorton III,” I read, trying not to look up at my boss.
“You wanted wealthy patients. Here’s our next intake.”
Says the rich doctor with his own box at the opera.
The words don’t sound angry in my head. Just matter-of-factly.
“Yes. And it’s been working so far.” My neutral gaze locks on his. “You’re welcome, Dr. Ramsey.”
I do not regret my actions because even though we are taking in more wealthy patients, we still have a team. And that is all that truly matters right now. Sometimes Ethan’s own stubbornness related to not deterring away from his strict worldview keeps him from considering options that are in our control. And this was one of them.
His face is completely blank. It doesn’t even harden like it would normally do when confronted with one of my challenges. Even the crystal blue of his eyes don’t flicker icy or cold, or darken to a more stormy grey. This neutralness between us is more unnerving than if I could see something flash in his eyes or across his face. At least I’d have some indication on how he’s feeling, and I could leave with some personal satisfaction that he hasn’t fully dismissed me.
I close the file and stand up. “I’ll get on this.”
“Lewis.” I stop at the sound of my name. “One more thing. Tremors. Sweating. Dry Mouth. Difficulty breathing. Excess anxiety. Increased anger or frustration. Mood swings—”
I turn to face him and see that he has moved to the front of his desk with his arms crossed. But his expression is as unreadable as before.
“Stop.” It’s the same ‘game’ we’ve played before, but this time it has a different purpose. “I’m fine.”
“Zyra.” The returned tenderness in the sound of my first name jolts me for a second and I feel an additional weight settle on my heart.
He jerks his head towards my right hand.
“I said I’m fine.” I unconsciously grip my wrist.
“As your boss, I have a responsibility for the safety of both you and the patients.” The neutral tone of Dr. Ramsey has returned. “If you are not well, you cannot expect to be at your best when taking care of your patients. And if this continues, I will be forced to take you off of cases until—”
“Dr. Ramsey, I have to go.”
I hold my breath as I leave. I don’t even look back. Instead, I open the file and pretend to read it as I walk out into the corridor towards the elevator. Once inside, I exhale so forcefully my lungs burn.
I find June with our patient, Mr. Thorton. They seem to be getting along because I hear laughter when I walk in.
“There she is. This is my colleague, Dr. Lewis.”
“Pleasure, Mr. Thorton.” I notice him giving me a one-over when I come to shake his hand. I feel an uncomfortable shiver down my spine.
“Eddie is fine.” He squeezes my hand and flashes me a set of pearly whites along with a wink. As I pull my hand away, his grip still lingers. I cringe, inwardly.
We take our time speaking with him and going over his symptoms. Being a trust fund kid and 25, he has traveled all over but had recently spent time parasailing, scuba diving, and jet skiing in Bora Bora.
During our conversation, we ask him questions. When it’s my turn to ask, I blink my eyes and look around the room. June and Eddie watch me expectantly.
“Um.” I flip through the chart, trying to recall the question that I had just remembered having when Eddie mentioned something about… swimming? No. Eating some local fish? Both? But as I search my mind, I’m left with nothing but me knocking frantically on locked doors. None of them open for me. My mind has gone blank. Even when I look at the information in the chart, the words hold no meaning like a foreign language I’ve never studied.
“Well, that is all the questions we have for now.” June keeps her smile, but the look she gives me holds nothing of that same cordiality for our patient. “We will order some blood work and take it from there.”
When we leave the room, June pulls me off to the side.
“What was that in there?”
“I just forgot what I was going to say.”
“That’s out of character for you. You’re always on top of everything. Are you okay? Do you need to talk about what you’re going through because—”
“I’m fine, June. I just had a moment. It won’t happen again.”
During our entire exchange, she has had a grip on my arm. She finally lets go.
“I’ll go order those blood tests.”
“No. I’ll do it,” she says skeptically.
I take her hand and gently hold it. I wipe away a few of my tears with my other hand. I see her chest slowly moving up and down due to the ventilator that is helping her breathe.
I didn’t know Kyra had decided to have surgery. I only knew that she had decided to just let the cancer run its course. It was something I had tried to convince her to continue fighting, but in the end, the final decision was hers.
Bryce was the one who propositioned the surgery and convinced the leading thoracic surgeon to take up her case.
She had made the decision to do the surgery while I was gone. According to Bryce, the surgery was a success.
And also while I was gone, she hadn’t woken up from the anesthesia. But the possibility of her coming out of this after a week is lower than the rate of surviving the experimental surgery.
I understand why my friends didn’t tell me. I had a lot on my plate already back at home, but it still hurts not having known. If this situation with Kyra is any indication of these past few weeks, then I’m as helpless as not being able to be there for Papa. If I had visited my parents more often, perhaps I could have seen the signs of what caused my papa’s death and could have prevented it from happening. And just like with Papa, if I had been here, perhaps I could have done something to help Kyra.
But I was neither here nor there and two people that I love are gone. I will never have the chance to see one of them ever again, while the other’s life hangs in an uncertain limbo. The only thing I can do is sit here and keep her company, which is all I’ve been doing when I can find a break from work.
I speak to her, telling her everything that has happened with my family. But then I feel guilty for the disclosure because she’s the one fighting for her life now. So I turn my one-sided conversation to something more uplifting: Talking about what she’s going to do once she wakes up, heals, and is officially cancer free. I recommend a road trip to New York or Niagara Falls in celebration.
I continue talking because I believe that she can hear me. And hopefully my being here will help her return to us. I have to believe that she’ll survive this because I selfishly can’t lose anyone else in my life right now.
I hear footsteps enter the room and turn around, expecting to see Bryce or a nurse. But it’s neither. It’s Dr. Victor Fitzgerald, the surgeon whom Bryce worked with on Kyra’s surgery.
“Ah, Dr. Lewis. I wasn’t expecting to see you in here,” he states emotionlessly.
He doesn’t look at me as he checks my friend’s vitals and notes them in her chart. His stoic demeanor sends a slight chill into the air. My arms are now covered with goosebumps.
“Given your notoriety with causing Mrs. Martinez’s death, perhaps you should stay clear of my patient.” The only thing that moves is the pen in his hand against the paper. His eyes never dart to mine to emphasize his warning, but the calm and nearly spiteful tone in his words alone are enough.
I feel a pang in my chest.
“That is uncalled for, Dr. Fitzgerald,” I spit out, nearly rising from my seat.
“You may have the higher ups all wrapped around your little finger, especially Dr. Ramsey and the Chief, but you don’t fool me. If it had been me, I would have made sure you never practiced medicine in this state, this country, or anywhere else in the world.” He finally looks at me. His eyes are dark and chilling. My goosebumps linger.
“Well, it wasn’t up to you.” I try to stand my ground, unsuccessfully.
“True. But in my assessment, Dr. Lewis, our patients should be protected from self-entitled physicians like yourself, who believe their actions hold no consequences.”
“That’s not true. I—” Usually I would have a wittier comeback, something that would show him I’m not intimidated or threatened by his obvious distrust and dislike of me. But for the first time, I don’t have it in me to even try to defend myself. I press a hand to my throat, feeling defeated.
“Oh, it isn’t?” He walks around to the other side of the bed, composedly checking the readings on his patient’s machines. “Well, with you obtaining a prestigious position as a junior fellow on Dr. Ramsey’s diagnostics team, that to me doesn’t sound like dealing with the consequences of your actions at all. It sounds like you were more rewarded for them and the higher ups were nothing but complicit.” He takes some more notes, pausing. Then he closes the chart and slips his pen back into his pocket as if our interaction held no true threat to him. “I’m actually more surprised Dr. Emery even had your back.”
He continues examining Kyra. “Oh, and if you plan to go and tattle to Ramsey about this, go ahead. I can hold myself against that egomaniac. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to physically examine my patient.”
My body locks in rage at the insult towards Ethan. I want nothing more than to do what I and Ethan once did to Declan, sock him a good one.
The doctor is standing over Kyra, but his hard, cold stare is directed toward me. That same lightheadedness from earlier has returned, but also like last time, I ignore it. But the only defiant thing I can do is squeeze my dear friend’s hand before I turn for the door.
“Good day, Dr. Lewis.” He waves dismissively at me.
I know there is still a segment of doctors who didn’t agree with the Board’s decision in regards to my actions. But it’s the first time I’ve heard one of their perspectives directly to my face and not behind my back.
The terrifying part is that there’s a part of me that agrees with some of the things he accused me of. Besides the guilt, what consequences have I truly faced?
I rush out the door, but slam into someone. I look up and see Bryce, his hands are holding my upper arms, keeping me close to him.
“Whoa, you okay there?” he asks.
“Yeah. Just seeing Kyra, you know,” I half lie. I suddenly feel numb all over and can hardly move.
“Yeah.” His arms wrap around me, holding me against his chest. I feel him rub my back. His head dips to whisper into my ear. “It’ll be okay, Zyra.”
I nod into his chest all while fighting back tears. I then look over his shoulder and see Ethan watching us from the nurses’ station. He looks away, hands the nurse a document, and then disappears around the corner in the opposite direction.
My shift is over and I choose not to linger around the hospital. I also don’t feel the need to return to my apartment yet. Instead, I make a detour to Donahue’s. The place is half full for a weeknight, but I don’t see any of my friends or Ethan. I order myself a beer and a basket of fries and find a spot outside at one of the tables in the beer garden next to a firepit. From my bag, I pull out the recent issue of the American Journal of Medicine and try to drown myself in medical research, carbs, and alcohol.
Halfway through my reading, my phone pings with a text from Elliot.
EL: How’s mama?
I want to quickly tell him to try calling her himself, but considering the situation, that would come off as cruel and insensitive. I’ve been the mediator between them for weeks, but I honestly don’t know what I can say or do to get them to at least talk to each other.
ZL: Same. Jacob needs help though. We can’t have him being the one taking care of her.
I wait for a response, staring at my screen. I see the three dots appear and then suddenly disappear without even a word of a reply. I frown in disappointment and drop my phone to the table. I try to return my attention to an article about spontaneous retroperitoneal hemorrhaging in dermatomyositis, but each word becomes a grey blur.
“Hey, Zyra.” I look up and see Sienna, smiling widely as she places a beer down on the table and takes a seat across from me.
“Hey, you. Where’s everyone else?” I ask.
“Oh, they’re inside playing pool. You know how the pool table is rarely free, so they’re taking advantage of it. I think it’s a Bryce/Rafael versus Elijah/Jackie smackdown going on in there. I saw you out here and thought I’d keep you company instead of refereeing a game I have no clue about.” She giggles as she casually steals one of my fries.
“You could just be a cheerleader then.” I match her light-hearted giggling, but it comes out as forced and unintentionally mocking.
“You know I can’t choose sides with my friends.” She grabs another fry, but I can tell she’s taken back due to the small crinkle between her eyebrows. “How are you holding up?” she asks, changing the subject.
I look down at the pages in the journal. There’s too much going on for my brain to process. It’s why I wanted to spend the evening alone. I begin to play with the corner of one of the pages, folding and unfolding it.
“I wish you had told me about Kyra,” I admit without looking at her.
“I’m sorry. We thought it would make it easier for you to find out when you came back.” She holds her beer between both hands, staring into the white froth at the top.
My mouth opens as I plan to disclose the exchange with Dr. Fitzgerald from earlier, but something else comes out instead. It’s something that has been in the back of my mind, but I haven’t been able to ask because of fearing the truth behind the answer.
“Why didn’t you tell me about Ethan?” My eyes flick to hers as I wait for a response. Her own eyes widen and then narrow in a sense of regret as she takes a sip of her beer.
“I didn’t know he was going to actually go there.”
“That’s not the point.” My annoyance begins to flare. “You had no right to give him my parents’ address.”
“You know I’ve been rooting for you two because I know how much he means to you. And from what you tell me, you mean a lot to him too.” She holds my gaze, sympathetically.
I take a sharp intake of breath. “Again. That. Is. Not. The. Point. Do you have any idea the additional complications it’s caused?”
“Zyra, I’m sorry, but he honestly seemed really worried about you. What was I supposed to do?”
“Tell him no.”
“I couldn’t do that. He wanted to send his condolences.”
“Are you telling me he lied to you?”
“Well, now that I think about it, he was probably telling me a half-truth. He did send his condolences in person.”
“God, Sienna, you still don’t get it.” I can feel my pulse slamming in my neck. “If you hadn’t given him the address, I probably wouldn’t be in the mess I am now with him.”
“Hold up! Don’t blame this on me.” Her heated tone now begins to match my own. “I was just trying to help. You are the two who can’t seem to get your acts together. Perhaps you should look at the real cause here. And this wasn’t it.”
“No, Zyra.” She points a finger at me. “I know you’re hurting right now. I know you’re going through so much in such a short amount of time. But don’t you dare project your anger towards Dr. Ramsey onto me. I’ve been nothing but a good friend to you. I’ve always had your back. But right now, I just don’t know how to talk to this Zyra, even though I just want to be here for her as a friend.”
Sienna gets up and grabs her drink. Due to the force, a little bit of the liquid spills over the rim and splashes onto the table top.
“I think I’m going to take your advice and cheer my friends on inside,” she tells me angrily.
I feel my pulse speed faster. I slam the journal closed. I pull my hand to my face, sucking on the newly formed paper cut on my thumb.
“You okay?” Aurora asks as I enter the apartment. She’s sitting at the dining table surrounded by a stack of books and her laptop.
“Yeah.” It’s all I can muster to say. I begin to hastily rip off my scarf and jacket. “It’s just hot.”
My roommate raises an eyebrow at me. “It’s like 50 degrees outside.” She then slides a bowl across the table towards me. “Want some gelato? It should help.”
I make my way to the table. When I sit, I take a spoonful of the cold treat and sigh with brief content. “This does help. What’s this? Pistachio?”
“Yeah. I’ve been wanting to try out the new gelato place by Mass Kenmore.”
We continue sharing the gelato in silence. She flips through pages in books and types on her laptop. I stare out towards the city view from our apartment and lick the spoon until my mouth is filled with nothing but a metallic taste.
When I go to scoop another bite, I motion towards the crowded table. “How’s that going for you by the way? Being at Mass Kenmore, I mean?”
“It feels right being there, you know?”
“Because of Tobias?” I smile and wink at her as I take another bite of the gelato.
Aurora blushes slightly. “No.”
Based on what Ethan has told me and from my personal experiences with the man, you’d be too good for him anyway.
She goes back to flipping through some pages in a textbook as she continues talking. “But I think I’m mature enough to realize not to get involved with an attending.”
I drop my spoon in the bowl. It makes a loud clink.
“Anyway, it all probably won’t matter.”
“Why not?” I ask.
“There’s rumors going around the hospital that Mass Kenmore and Edenbrook are going to merge because of the budget cuts.”
“It’s just a rumor.” Aurora shrugs.
“Wow.” I lean back in the chair and run the back of my hand across my forehead. I feel droplets of sweat wipe against it. “Will any of this end? It just feels like one bad thing after another.”
“I know, Zyra. I’m sorry.”
“None of this is your fault.” I give her a reassuring smile. “We all just gotta learn to adapt to the changes somehow.”
“How’s your family though?”
“I don’t even know anymore. My brother and mother won’t talk to each other. My little brother is now acting like the parent. My mother’s depression is… a challenge. And that doesn’t include everything going on with Kyra.” And Ethan and that mean Dr. Fitzgerald.
Aurora sits up straight and locks onto my eyes.
“I even got into it with Sienna today,” I admit willingly.
My roommate’s mouth twitches.
“What?” I ask her, confused.
“Let me guess, you railed on her about something that wasn’t really her fault.”
“I—” My cheeks burn and I indulge in another spoonful of the treat that could possibly cool me back down.
“All I’m saying is that I’ve been on the receiving end of your anger multiple times because you tend to jump to conclusions.”
I sigh. “Yeah. I’m sorry about all that. And you’re right.” I play with the spoon in the bowl.
“Hey, give me that before you eat it all.” Aurora takes the bowl away from me and lightly chuckles, giving me a smile unworthy of her friendship.
“I’ll get you some more tomorrow,” I promise.
“You know what I’ve been thinking?” She looks up from one of her many books. “I think we all need some time away. How about we all go see a movie to destress?”
“What do you have in mind?”
“What about that new Thomas Hunt movie, The Last Duchess? I’ve been reading some great things about it.”
“It’s supposed to be a historical drama.”
I wonder if that is the type of movie Ethan would watch. What am I thinking?
“Plus, it has Chris Winters,” Aurora continues. “And that new, popular actress, Jessica Clark. I heard she and Thomas Hunt are rumored to be dating.”
“I didn’t realize you were into celebrity gossip.”
“Well, we all have our guilty pleasures.”
We both laugh, but my friend’s turns into a hilarious snort.
Aurora wanted to watch the movie at the historic theater downtown. Because it only takes cash, I make a stop at the ATM. There’s a man ahead of me, so I wait as I scroll through my phone. Elliot still hasn’t responded to me in the past few days. I send him another text.
ZL: You doing OK? We should talk soon.
After I tap send, I hear a set of familiar voices coming down the sidewalk. When I look, my entire body feels as if it can’t move, except for the rapid sensation of my heart that makes my chest ache.
Ethan and Harper are walking down the sidewalk. Her arm is looped inside the crook of his. They stop and turn towards each other. I notice that they are now standing in front of his unmistakable luxury Sedan, which is parked on the street.
They continue talking, but their voices are muffled due to the distance, so I can’t make out anything.
There’s a tree on the sidewalk next to me. I take a few steps back to hide myself behind it, but I can’t help but continue observing. I don’t even realize when the man in front of me has finished his transaction.
The two continue talking. Ethan has his hands in the pocket of his brown khakis. He’s discarded his post-Amazon look. If the beard was to go, I should have assumed his more hip attire would have also.
Harper’s hand lingers on his arm. She brushes some hair out of her face as they continue talking. A smile plays on her lips, while Ethan appears serious and attentive, looking at her as she carries the conversation. I wish I could hear what they are talking about.
Then Harper’s hands move to hold Ethan’s face between them. And I swear I see some spark being reignited between them, which knots my stomach. Ethan appears to be drawn into her and I witness the last thing I would have ever expected.
Ethan doesn’t pull away. Instead, he places his hands on her waist and appears to be kissing her in return. I clasp a hand over my mouth, feeling my heart now stuck in my throat. I move backward, pressing my back against the trunk of the tree. I’m now in full regret of deciding to be a voyeur out of curiosity.
When Harper returned to being an attending, there was a fear that perhaps they would get back together. And now I had a true basis for that fear due to what I’m now observing.
It doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t because I ended things between us. He has every right to be with whomever he wants. But I guess—
He really never wanted to be with me.
I didn’t realize my heart could be broken any further. But I swear I feel the muscle tear in one swift stroke like ripping a piece of paper in half. I nearly cry out in pain due to the sudden feeling.
All I can think of is that he was fighting his attraction towards me because he still held feelings for his ex. And why wouldn’t he? They were together for a long time. It’s hard to erase the importance of a person like that in your life. I remember when I did the f.M.R.I. on him last year, it showed his hypothalamus active when I asked him if he still held feelings for her. He tried to walk around the question, but the results of the machine told me something different.
Was I just a rebound as he waited for her? Or was this the result of him witnessing me and Bryce the other day? Perhaps he thought I had already moved on from him when he saw us hugging. But that’s ridiculous because a hug isn’t the same thing as a kiss. Friends hug. Friends do not kiss like that.
He’s the one who has moved on.
And based on my reaction, I’m the one who hasn’t.
I finally will my legs to move, taking one quick step after the other. I don’t realize that I’m now just running away from the scene, sprinting across the crosswalk and across the street, until I make it two more streets over. I slow down as I near the theater.
My friends are waiting outside. Bryce with his sister. Rafael with Sora. Elijah with Phoebe. Jackie and Aurora.
I stop at the corner to catch my breath and to regain my composure before I join them.
“Zyra! You made it.” Rafael waves.
“You look out of breath. You okay?” Jackie asks.
“Oh, definitely. Just couldn’t wait to see this movie with you guys.” It saddens me that I’ve become good at lying to my friends.
I look around and down the street, but I don’t see Sienna.
“Where’s Sienna?” I ask everyone.
“She’s with Danny tonight,” Aurora explains, but she gives me a look that tells me that isn’t the whole reason.
After making up an excuse for not having cash and Bryce kindly paying for me, we grab snacks and fill up the back row with all us. Rafael on my left offers me some of his and Sora’s popcorn. Bryce on my right steals a sip of my root beer. I playfully nudge him in the rib with my elbow.
“Hey, I paid for your ticket and your food.”
The moment I begin to lean over him to speak with Keiki, his sister, the room slowly goes dark and the first trailer plays.
“After, Zyra,” she tells me, with a soft smile.
Before I can fully straighten up in my seat, Bryce puts his arm around my shoulders, holding me against him.
“You could stay like this if you wanted. I wouldn’t mind.”
I poke his stomach against the tautness of his abdomen. “You wish,” I tease back.
About thirty minutes into the movie, the lead character’s father dies. My mind begins to drift away from the film’s story to focus on everything. I pull at the collar of my sweater. It feels like it’s trying to suffocate me, and my throat and mouth immediately become dry. I feel sweat streak down the sides of my face. Sweat also begins pooling under my armpits. My chest feels tight and my lungs start to burn. Then the telling sign—
My entire right arm, not my hand, begins to shake. I grip it and stand up.
I feel Bryce’s hand on the small of my back. “Zyra?” I hear him ask quietly.
“Zyra, you okay?” Rafael whispers as I squeeze past him and Sora. I nod with a smile and then hurry up the aisle with some long monologue from the main actress playing out behind me.
I leave the building for some fresh air. But I am unable to maintain any balance. Dizziness starts to settle in as I lean against the brick wall of the theater. I realize that I’ve begun to hyperventilate. My lungs burn with each eager breath I try to take. I clutch my chest as I hunch over, gasping for air.
Before everything turns to black, random images flash in front of me.
The wax-figure-like face of my sleeping Papa in his coffin.
Mama dropping to her knees in loud, painful sobs at the memorial.
Jacob sitting quietly in his sadness with his Captain American figure.
The torn look on Elliot’s face as he looked back at me when he left Mama’s house for good.
Kyra laying in her hospital bed alone.
The cold stare of Dr. Fitzgerald.
The angry glare from Sienna.
Ethan kissing Harper.
I swear the last thing I hear is Rafael’s voice—“Zyra!”