The Winter in My Heart: Chapter 15

The Truth (CALL)

Book: Open Heart (Choices)

Pairing: Dr. Ethan Ramsey x MC (Dr. Zyra Lewis)

Summary: With Zyra in the hospital, she receives an unexpected visit from Ethan. But this visit may be the very thing she needs to finally begin to move on from him.

Rating: Teen+ (language, adult content)

Previous Chapters: Open Heart Fic Archive (see Series)

Word Count: 3951

Preview


I don’t remember much after leaving the theater. I remember the burning sensation in my lungs. The pounding in my temples like the tick of a clock. The uncontrollable quake in my right arm. The haunting memories. Papa. Ethan. And then the darkness ending it all. 

When I woke up, I felt the lag in my muscles as I tried to move, the drowsiness as I tried to look around through a blurred vision. When it finally adjusted, I saw that I was alone behind aqua curtains. This wasn’t Edenbrook. Our curtains are more of a pale blue. I was in a hospital bed, hooked up to an IV drip and electrode pads on my chest. There was a blanket covering me because I had no shirt on. 

In the back of my mind, I heard a little voice ever so faintly say, I wish I’d never woken up. 

When the doctor arrived, I saw the Mass Kenmore logo on his white coat. Then I realized I was in the ER. How did I get here? Perhaps it was better to be here than at my workplace. No one could intrude on my privacy, and I didn’t need anymore gossip about me going around the hospital. 

They moved me into a room to observe me over night. The plan is to discharge me in the morning. I was also advised to take all of next week off to recuperate. 

Once they moved me into my room, I finally saw my friends. I kept apologizing for ruining the movie. I received a lot of hugs and “thank goodness you’re okays” in response. Since Phoebe is our neighbor, she offered to help me with anything while my roommates are at work. Keiki also offered and texted me her number. 

After a while, everyone slowly started to filter out until only Bryce, his sister, and Aurora were left. 

They’ve been sitting with me, trying to keep the conversation light-hearted. Bryce has been telling some embarrassing childhood stories about him and Keiki. His sister looks up from her phone from time to time and rolls her eyes before returning to scrolling through her screen. 

His stories are a welcome distraction. Even Aurora is finding them amusing. She hasn’t once gotten up from the chair at my bedside. 

Bryce collects his jacket and slips it on. 

“Sora and Rafael are gonna pick you up when you get discharged,” he tells me, as he places his hand on my shoulder. “Just text Raf once you get the confirmation.” 

I just nod and give him an appreciative smile. He leans over and kisses my forehead. It is surprisingly gentle. With the way it lingers, I can’t tell if it’s friendly or something more. If I wasn’t pumped up on anti-anxiety meds, I would feel a rush of panic right now, setting off my ECG reading on the heart monitor. 

“Thanks, Bryce. Keiki.” I give them both a weak wave before they leave and disappear out into the corridor. 

Aurora pats my hand. “And then there was one.”

“You don’t have to stay. I’ll be fine,” I say. 

“Nah. I want to. Besides, I was going to get some hours in tomorrow anyway.”

We exchange a smile that has become uniquely our own. One of a deepening friendship.

“Do you want me to text Sienna and let her know?” Aurora asks.

I hesitate with my answer. Sienna and I haven’t been on speaking terms much since our argument at Donahue’s. 

“That’s okay. I’ll see her tomorrow.”

“Okay then.” She stands up for the first time. “I’m probably going to head to the cafeteria to grab something to eat though. Need anything before I go?”

I have the bed positioned so that I’m sitting upright. I can see my bag on the floor beside the bed table parked at my left. “Yeah, um, could you grab my journal from my bag,” I ask while pointing towards it.

Aurora raises an eyebrow questioningly. She searches through my bag and pulls out my recent issue of The American Journal of Medicine. She holds it up to me. “This?”

“Yeah.” I hold my hand out.

She shakes her head, a wry smile quirks her mouth, while approaching me and hands me the issue. “And I thought I was bad.”

I’m left with my reading after she leaves. It’s quiet now. The corridor lacks the rush of foot traffic. Every one of my friends have left. Even the sound to my heart monitor is turned off. I can feel myself beginning to submit to the serenity of the environment. My eyelids feel heavy. 

I haven’t even read one word. 

But the silence and emptiness of the room begin to feel like a dark vacuum, filled with only the repeated memories of those I’ve lost. I force my eyes to remain open. If I close my eyes, I will see their faces again. Each and every one of them. And I don’t know if the medication will be enough to keep them at bay. 

That short moment of peacefulness disappears. I only feel my fear and grief. 

I’m truly alone.

My hand searches around for the remote to call the nurse. I need more medicine. I want to be knocked out. I want to feel numb. I want to forget about everything, even just for the remainder of the night. I want to drown in the quiet slumber of darkness and awake to the memory of nothing. 

Please. Give me this peace of mind.

The moment my hand finds the remote, I hear a soft knock. 

I look towards the door and see the one person I would have least expected. Why is he here? Why isn’t he with Harper? 

Ethan is standing in the doorway, his hand resting against the doorframe. I feel my own hand grow limp against the remote. Just the sight of him makes my heart feel heavy with sorrow.

“Hi,” he greets. He remains motionless at the door, studying me for a long moment, then asks, “Can I come in?”

I blink a few times with the weight of my eyelids feeling lighter. “How did you find me?”

“Does it matter?” 

Of course it matters. I get flashbacks of him standing at my doorstep in Colorado. The fear of his emotional push-pull dance is now in the forefront of my mind, and I can feel the fear of it flood my body. 

Ethan, I need you to leave. The words beat against my mind, but I can’t open my mouth to say them.

He finally drops his hand to his side and takes slow strides to cross the room towards me. When he reaches my bedside, he shifts his gaze from me to the journal resting across my abdomen. He picks it up. His eyes quickly scan across the opened pages. “You should be resting, not studying.” He sets it down on the table next to my bed. 

“I always read before bed. It acts as a sleeping stimulant,” I say, my voice suddenly empty. 

“Depending on how dry some of these articles can be, I wouldn’t argue against that.” I witness a slight smirk twitch at the edge of his mouth. But his gaze rests on the journal, his fingers lingering on the cover. His other hand rests in his pocket. His shoulders slightly slumped forward.

“So, did you come to gloat? Tell me ‘I told you so’?”

His head snaps towards me. His expression is first of shock but then turns somber. 

“Zyra…” His voice softens.

He sits on the bed close to me. But he does it as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. His hand brushes against mine, while his other slides loosely in his lap. Because I’m sitting upright, we are nearly at eye level, and I can easily see the stormy grey of his eyes. They’re no longer the crystal blues I’m most familiar with. 

“How are you feeling?” he asks, finally placing his hand on top of mine, his fingers curling underneath against my palm. It’s familiar warmth nearly makes me gasp out loud. “Your hand feels better.”

I shouldn’t allow myself to accept his closeness, especially after witnessing his kiss with Harper. Especially that. I feel Ethan doesn’t know what—or who—he wants. But I also know I don’t have the strength to pull my hand away from his touch.

We sit there quietly. My eyes slowly flick between his hand and his face. His focus is only on my hand, as his thumb caresses along my knuckles. His brows are drawn together in a pensive frown. 

“I have to take all of next week off. Doctor’s orders.” I tell him, acting as if he’s just my boss right now.

“Perhaps the doctors here aren’t as hopeless as I thought,” he says with a humorous chuckle. But I don’t have the urge to join him. 

“What are you doing here?” I ask in a strained voice.

He finally raises his eyes to mine. His expression is now void of any false amusement.

“I was worried. I thought I—I’d lost you.” His voice nearly cracks, as his hand tightens against mine.

I close my eyes, hoping that when I open them, I have the strength in my words that my body currently lacks.  

“Ethan,” I take in a deep breath and open my eyes, catching his worried gaze. “The truth is you lost me a long time ago.”

A deep pain flashes in his eyes. I can feel something similar in mine. 

His gaze drops to our hands. “I know.” He speaks the words in a low, anguished voice.

A sudden unspeakable pain grips me by the throat. I begin to stroke the inside of his wrist with a finger to soothe him, myself, or both of us. I honestly don’t know the reason.

“If I really think about it, it seems we only truly connected during times of tragedies. We truly began getting close during Dolores’ passing. Then there was Naveen, Mrs. Martinez, my hearing, your parents, my father’s death. How can whatever we have survive outside of any of this?”

“You know it was more than that. So much more.”

“I don’t know anymore. But you’re only trying to be close to me now because I’m in the hospital.”

He grows silent, looking almost defeated. His grip loosens on my hand. 

“I’m so sorry, Ethan,” I say, biting my lip to hold back the tears stinging my eyes. “But you were right about one thing.” My jaw trembles. “I thought I could put my own needs aside. For my family, for the team, for my intern, my patients. I finally broke. I’m no help to any of them right now.”

I turn my head to the side, trying to swallow the sob in my throat. 

“I’m so sorry… for everything. I fucked everything up between us. I should have tried harder to help you the moment I noticed your symptoms.”

“Well, I wasn’t much open to your help.” I gulp hard, continuing to fight back the hot tears from slipping down my cheeks.

“Because I lost your trust.”

“Because you broke my heart!” I say sharply. I finally have the strength to pull my hand away from his.

His entire body tenses, as his breath catches. The hurt and guilt lay naked in his eyes. 

You were right, Zyra. I’ve been nothing but a coward,” he says, looking away from me. “And the consequences of my actions, or inactions, have only led to hurting you.” He drops his head into his hands. “But I should have tried harder. I was just afraid that if I pushed, it would have made things worse between us. I feel like I failed you.”

I can’t help but feel heartbroken looking at his dejected form. Not even the curves of his toned muscles tight against his clothes or the size of his body can hide how small he has become. 

“I thought I was angry with you. But I was really angry with myself.” I reach out my hand to touch his shoulder, but then I quickly withdraw it. “I was angry for trusting you and letting you in again.” 

I know this doesn’t help with his pain. But it’s the only truth I have to give. He lifts his head from his hands, but stares across the room. 

“But I’m not angry anymore. I’m not. I’m just—” I can feel the twitch in my hand return. “I’m just mourning the loss of my father. The disarray of my family. Kyra. The fall out with my best friend.” My hand twitches again. “Losing you,” I murmur in a voice that holds its own tremor. I know he feels the faint twitch this time because he turns to me and envelopes my hand between his. “It’s been all too much. Too much at once. I thought I could handle it. I thought…”

Ethan leans into me, gathering me into his arms. The feel of his embrace is almost unbearable in its tenderness. I have no desire to back out of it. Not yet. 

He drops his head to my shoulder. His breath fans against my neck like a comforting summer breeze. “I’m here. I’m here, Zyra.”

I squeeze my eyes shut, wishing he hadn’t said those words. “I know, but you can’t be here. It hurts too much.” I gently push against his chest. He rises, only inches away from me. His hands linger on my sides. When we look at each other, his eyes are red, and I can feel tears bordering mine.

I place a hand over his heart. My fingers caress slowly against his sweater, savoring the softness of the cotton.

“Ethan, your heart’s in the right place. You just have to figure out what it’s trying to tell you. Sometimes you need to listen more to it than this.” I tap a finger against his temple. “But, I can’t be there when you finally figure it out. I can’t. I can’t go back to that. It’s too painful.”

I can see the heartbreak across his face. And I feel my own return like that same ripping of muscle. 

“We’ve missed our window of opportunity. You’ll thank me one day when you’re finally with the right person.”

He’s silent, but I can hear his mind turning. “I made so many mistakes.”

“We both did. But it’s better this way. We both know that.”

I lean back against the bed, as he releases his hands from around my sides. His expression doesn’t look like one of understanding, but more like he got some kind of confirmation.

“At least we’re on the same page now,” he says calmly, which contrasts with the silent distress in his eyes. He slowly lifts himself off the bed to stand. He looks down at me, a question looming large in his mind. “Are they discharging you tomorrow?”

“Yes.”

“Do you need—”

“Ethan, we can’t go back to that.”

“Yes. Of course,” he agrees, smiling sadly.

I know this man has hurt me more times than I can count. And I know there is no possible way we could ever explore our feelings, let alone be in a committed relationship of any kind. But I am a diagnostician and reading others is what I’m trained to do. This helps me to better understand a patient’s situation and best help with their diagnosis. In Ethan’s case, I’ve been trying to understand why he always found excuses to push me away, to run away from me, to disappear to the Amazon. But after meeting his dad, talking to Ethan about his mom, I understand. It doesn’t justify his behavior towards me, but it’s painted a better picture of this troubled, brilliant man. And if this is the last time we will ever be open with each other, then this is the last chance I have to tell him. And with it, I hope it can help him with this deep-rooted pain that he has been carrying around with him. 

Because even if I no longer trust him, and even if we can’t be together, I still care about him and his happiness. 

“Ethan, can I tell you something?”

He doesn’t move to leave, but simply nods.

“Do you remember the first time you took me to your secret coffee shop?” I give him the first smile since his arrival. “Remember how we observed people and guessed their behaviors?”

“They weren’t guesses. They were accurate observations.”

“Yes. You’re right.” I softly chuckle. “But we also told each other what we observed about the other. For you, you’ve carried an anger in you for so long that you’ve gotten used to it.”

He looks shocked. It’s the opposite of his calm reaction when I had told him the same exact observation on that day. 

“I’m not June. I’m not a psychologist, but I think this deep seated anger is because of your mother.”

His shock visibly vanishes, but I see his jaw clench. He doesn’t say a word. He doesn’t even try to stop me from continuing. 

“You say you feel nothing for your mother. That she’s nothing but a stranger to you. But what I really think is that you’ve been running away from your feelings about what she did to you. You’ve been running away from them for so long that when things get hard or scary in your relationships, you’ve learned  that the only answer is to run away because you don’t want to be hurt again. You’ve been trying to protect your heart. And you use your rules to make sense of the world around you because your mother leaving you and your dad’s love for your mother don’t make sense.”

His fists bunch against the sides of his legs.

“You’re afraid of getting close to someone, letting someone in, because you’re afraid that you won’t matter to them. Because you feel you don’t matter to your mother and even to your dad.”

I reach out and place my hand on his arm.

“But you matter to me,” I whisper intimately, my eyes burning, my mouth becoming dry. “And you matter to Naveen, to your dad, to Reggie… to Harper, too.” 

Ethan’s expression turns entirely blank, but his face has turned pale. He drops into the chair as if his legs have given out from under him. He leans forward with his head dropped. My hand returns to his arm, comfortingly.

“Zyra…I—” He covers my hand with his.

I have the immediate urge to jump out of this bed and wrap my arms around his shoulders to show him how much he really does matter to me. But by telling him this, this is a form of my love for him. Yes, my love, even though I can never express it to him or ever be with him.

I watch him silently until he lifts his head with understanding flickering in his eyes. But as he looks at me as tears shimmer in his eyes, his gaze is as soft as a caress. Its warmth encloses around my broken heart, regretting the loss of what we could have had together.

“And here I was supposed to try to comfort you,” he lightly teases.

“It’s not your job,” I say with a note of remorse.

He runs a hand across his jaw and nods. Then he leans back into the chair and reaches for something in his jacket pocket. “I did bring you these. Can I at least leave these here for you?”

He reveals a pack of Geysers. 

“How could I say no to those?” I briefly laugh as I say it.

He gently places them on top of the journal.

“I’ll see you when you get back.”

“Will I still need a babysitter?”

“I’ll reassess when you return,” he replies with a subtle smirk.

I can feel his resistance to leave, or it’s my resistance against him leaving. Because when he does leave, I know this will finally be the end of Ethan and Zyra. Only Ramsey and Lewis will remain.

He breaks the lingering tension by finally standing up. 

“Goodbye, Zyra.”

“Goodbye, Dr. Ramsey.”

He clears his throat. “Right. Goodbye, Lewis,” he says in his professional tone.

He makes it to the doorway, but stalls. Then he looks over his shoulder at me. 

“And for the record, you shouldn’t fear about ending up alone and only having yourself to count on. You still have a support network in your life. You won’t drown here on your own, Lewis. You won’t.” 

It’s his own observation about me from that day in the coffee shop. He says it with such confidence that I almost believe him. 

Now I’m the one left in shock, as I watch him exit and leave me for good. 

It’s as it should be, but it doesn’t hurt any less. Before I can even begin to think about succumbing to the lingering sob in my throat and the burning tears in my eyes, I hear his voice in the hallway.

“Back off, Tobias.”

A mere seconds later, I then see Tobias walk into my room.

“Now I see why Ethan was here.” But his usual cockiness and smug expression are absent. “You doing okay?” He comes to take a seat in the empty chair left by Ethan. 

“You’re not going to brag about my using Mass Kenmore services and not Edenbrook’s?”

“Doesn’t seem fitting, wouldn’t you agree?” He reclines back in the seat, stretching his legs out, and crossing them at the ankles.

I turn my head away from him, looking up at the ceiling. Perhaps there is some compassion inside of him. I then bite my lip. I won’t allow myself to cry in front of him. If I can hold myself back in front of Ethan, I can definitely do it in front of… Ethan’s old friend

A thought crosses my mind. 

“Can you do something for me?”

“Need a snack? Help to the bathroom? More meds?”

The meds are tempting, but I shake my head. “Ethan’s going to need a friend right now.” I then turn my head back towards him, my eyes stinging. “Can you put your petty competitiveness aside and remember why you two were like brothers in the first place?”

I observe his expression. It’s the most serious I’ve ever seen. He then lifts himself up from the chair.

“I’ll be around for another hour in case you need anything,” he says, avoiding any response to my request. “See ya around, Zyra.” He pats the doorjamb as he leaves.

Now that I’m alone again, my anguish peaks and shatters the last ounce of my control. I finally allow myself to cry. All I can feel is grief and despair tear at my heart. I roll over onto my side, burying my face into the pillow. 

“Zyra?”

I hear Aurora’s voice, but I don’t even peek out. The weight shifts on the bed, and I feel her arms around me, her body spooning me from behind. 

“I saw Ethan come in this direction when I left. I don’t even think he recognized me as I passed by. His mind seemed elsewhere.”

Hearing his name makes my sobs burst.

“So it is true then? You and Ethan?”

Was true,” I choke out.

“I’m so sorry.” My hand twitches turn into a slight tremble. Aurora grips my hand to hold it steady. “But it’s kinda awkward knowing you were with my aunt’s ex.”

“I hadn’t even considered that.”

“Well, let’s not. For both our sakes.”

I try to fight against the laughter that bubbles up in my throat. But I fail.

8 thoughts on “The Winter in My Heart: Chapter 15

  1. What the hell happened? I was expecting tears, love confessions and, I don’t know… anything but this.

    But..
    Yes, Zyra, go and date Lahela, let Ethan be miserable on his own 🙂
    As much as I want see Zyra and Ethan together, I think that she is better without him.

    Thank You, that was really unexpected and really cool. Can’t wait how withhold turns out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad that what happened wasn’t expected! We’re only at the halfway point, so we’ll see what happens in CALL!

      And hopefully you’ll like the WITHHOLD chapter. Working on it now!

      Thanks for your continued reading! ❤️

      Like

  2. Although their conversation didn’t go the way that I expected I enjoyed this chapter (I was convinced you were going to do a bait and switch, haha). Hopefully they can become friends without all this pining getting in the way.

    Looking forward to the next one ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Carlena!

      It’s so funny because when I was writing the CALL path, I kept thinking the events in this chapter would be obvious to the reader. I guess I was wrong! Most of my readers so far were not expecting their relationship to take that turn, so I’ve been surprised by that.

      We still got half of the story left, so we’ll see what happens to their relationship! I’m currently writing the next chapter, and I like what I have so far. I hope you’ll enjoy it, too! Thanks for reading and your thoughtful comments! I love reading your thoughts. It makes me really happy! ❤️

      Like

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