Book: Open Heart (Choices)
Pairing: Dr. Ethan Ramsey x MC (Dr. Zyra Lewis)
Summary: Ethan has to learn how to live his life without Zyra. But can he learn how to move on?
Rating: Teen+ (character death, coping with loss, adult content, racial microagressions, language, heavy angst)
Author Note: This story’s narrative is organized into chronological short stories about the rest of Ethan’s life. I also wrote these throughout the course of one day. It was a form of catharsis for me with everything going on right now.
Word Count: 8750
THE LOSS OF YOU
The nurse had just left. Their daughter had just wished them both goodnight with hugs and kisses and headed home with her grandpa Alan. They would return first thing in the morning, because Zyra hated being away from her daughter for too long.
Ethan layed on the hospital bed, holding Zyra in his arms. Her weak, fragile body was nestled against his larger, muscular one, which kept her safe and warm. The cancer had made her thin and her body was more prone to getting cold, making her shiver at random.
He tucked the blanket tighter around her. He could feel the shudder of her body calming.
“I’ve been thinking,” Ethan began, his lips moving against her scarf-covered head, “we should make it official and get married when you beat this.”
“Ethan Ramsey doesn’t believe in marriage,” she responded in a hoarse whisper with a light-hearted tone. He felt her lips spread against his chest in a smile.
They had been in a domestic partnership for almost a decade raising their now 8-year-old daughter, Jocelyn. But the current situation gave him flashbacks of the time when he had almost lost Zyra during the near assassination of a senator. Just like then, he held her in his arms in her hospital bed, even if he couldn’t feel her through his hazmat suit. And just like then, he held regrets. This time his regret was not marrying her. But also just like then, he wanted to believe that she would survive.
He didn’t lose Zyra then.
He wasn’t going to lose her now. They had many more decades ahead of them—together.
Ethan scooted his body down so that he could rest his forehead against hers and look directly into her brown eyes that still carried some of that golden warmth. Not even the cancer could take away all of her glow, he thought.
“I believe in us.” He matched her small smile.
They stared silently into each other’s eyes, speaking only through the way their gazes searched one another. Intimate. Connected. Loved.
Ethan watched as Zyra’s eyelids grew heavy and finally closed. He used his thumb to wipe the lone tear at the edge of her eye. He then kissed the corner of her mouth before he allowed himself to follow her into sleep.
Night eventually passed and the sun rose out of habit.
Ethan soon followed.
But Zyra never rose with the sun ever again.
SAYING GOODBYE TO YOU
“Don’t close up and shut yourself off, my love. Joss’ll need you.”
Ethan heard the memory of Zyra’s words in his head. How much he missed the sound of her voice.
Jocelyn had not once let go of his hand during the entirety of the funeral. Or Ethan didn’t want to let go of her hand. He wasn’t sure of the true reason.
Ethan and his daughter were with Zyra’s family, her mother Janet and her two brothers Elliot and Jacob. They were standing silently around Zyra’s casket, which was adorned with a spray of golden flowers. The other guests had already left for the reception. Soon her family began to leave one-by-one with Janet being last.
“You wanna come with grandma, baby?” Janet held her hand out to Jocelyn.
Ethan’s daughter gripped his hand tighter and leaned more into a hug against him.
“We’ll see you back at the reception,” Ethan kindly told her. He believed Janet thought he wanted time alone with Zyra for a final goodbye, but what was a final goodbye without Jocelyn being with him?
Once they were alone in the cemetery, the three of them, Ethan felt his daughter bury her face into his hip. Her shoulders shuddered as he heard her quiet sobs.
He swallowed hard before he knelt down on one knee. She immediately wrapped her little arms around his neck and continued crying. He embraced her small body against him. His chest burned and he could feel his heart pounding like thunder in his throat. It took all his self-control to keep the tears hinting at the rims of his eyes from falling.
“Mommy’s coming back, right, daddy?”
Hearing those heartbreaking words forced some of his tears to finally stream down his cheeks. Zyra always knew the right thing to say to their little one. But with her gone, he was afraid of saying the wrong thing.
He rubbed Joss’ back and kissed the top of her head before he gently pulled away to look directly at her. Her eyes were red and full of tears. Ethan pulled out a handkerchief from his inside breast pocket and began to dab her eyes and nose.
He then took both of her hands, as big as the diameter of a tennis ball in his larger ones, and held them protectively.
“Sweetheart, mommy had to say goodbye. It’s just gonna be you and me from now on.”
Joss’s lips trembled as she stared back at him with disbelieving eyes.
“I miss her,” she muttered in a hauntingly cracked voice.
“I miss her too. So much. But you know what?” He squeezed her little hands. “We can miss her together.”
He held her again, but he choked back his tears and his need to cry. He needed to maintain control of his emotions around her, so that he could be his little one’s support through all of this. She needed him more than ever now.
He picked her up in his arms and felt her lean her head against his, while staring at Zyra’s casket one last time.
“You wanna give mommy a kiss goodbye? Like this.” Ethan extended his pointer and middle fingers, kissed them, and then touched the casket.
Joss mimicked her father. When she touched the casket, she sullenly told her mother goodbye. “I love you, mommy.”
Ethan’s final words were in his thoughts. I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you.
He carried his daughter away, knowing that she was looking over his shoulder at her mother. He took his time taking steps around different gravestones and up a grassy hill towards the car. Once he reached the top, he saw someone waiting for him alone on the sidewalk.
They both exchanged nods. Ethan’s best friend opened the rear door to prepare Joss for the ride. But Ethan knew Joss wouldn’t leave his side. So he sat in the backseat with her, her head resting on his lap, as Tobias drove them to the reception.
As Tobias drove away, Ethan looked out the window and saw Zyra’s casket off in the distance. The colors of the flowers made it light up like the sun.
YOUR FAVORITE COLOR
“Lunch time, sweetheart.”
Ethan placed a sandwich cut diagonally on the table with a side of apple slices. He glanced over his shoulder at Joss who was lying on her stomach on the living room floor. Her coloring books were spread open, crayons had exploded from the box all around her.
The explosion of color at least gave the brown hardwood floors some life.
He smirked to himself as he headed to the refrigerator.
“Juice or milk, Joss?”
Her voice was low. It didn’t carry across the open space as it used to when Zyra was… alive. But he heard her choice. He pulled out the milk.
He poured the milk into her favorite blue cup with dinosaur prints. As he finished, he nearly slammed the milk carton on the table.
How could he forget that his daughter didn’t like the crust on her sandwich? Zyra would have never forgotten. He cursed under his breath, scolding himself for such an oversight.
His hand shook as he cut off the brown edges. The blade of the knife nearly came close to the tip of his thumb.
With the crust gone, he held the scraps in the palm of his hand. He stared long and hard at them, recalling a memory.
Whenever he was around, Zyra would feed him some of the crust away from Joss’ prying eyes. It was because of the way her fingers sensually lingered on his lips as he chewed, her warm gaze matching the radiance of her smile as she observed him. He would lean down and peck her lips. Sometimes she would grip the back of his head to hold him there, stealing a much longer and more intimate kiss from him before they returned to parenting.
But that was no longer reality. Only a memory.
Ethan walked over to the trash can, stomped his foot on the pedal to open the lid, and tossed the crust inside, discarding the painful memory.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before making his way to Joss.
She was coloring a picture of a popular cartoon character in a single color. Yellow.
Ethan swallowed back a lump in his throat.
It was Zyra’s favorite color.
He knelt down on the floor and sat cross legged next to his little one. He watched how she stayed within the lines even though she was only using the same color for each part of the character.
“And who’s that?”
“Moana,” she said without looking up.
“Ah, that’s right. May I join you?”
Joss finally looked up. Her bright, blue eyes now sparkled back against his own matching ones. Her mother’s smile grew across her little face.
“Here, daddy.” She looked around at her coloring books, picked one up, and handed it to him. “You can color Maui.”
He remembered this character. The big, muscular demigod that helped Moana on her journey. Perhaps he was like Maui now.
Ethan searched through the crayon options and found a canary color.
“Yellow, too, right?” He gave his daughter a large smile, while holding up the crayon.
“Yeah, like mommy.”
BEDTIME WITHOUT YOU
He sat at Joss’s bedside after tucking her in. He noticed her gaze never strayed from a spot on top of her nightstand. It was on a framed picture of the three of them at Boston’s Museum of African American History. A few weeks before Zyra’s ovarian cancer diagnosis.
Ethan had the longest stretch, so he was in charge of the family selfies that day. He recalled how Zyra and Joss swiped through the images from the outing on Zyra’s phone, when they came home. He could hear their excited voices from the kitchen as he cooked dinner. While he was mixing the pasta sauce, Joss ran up to him, jumping up and down with her mother’s phone in her hand raised in his direction.
“Daddy! Daddy! Look at this one. It’s so cute!”
Joss loved this picture so much because her mother was kissing her cheek, while her father was tickling her in the side. Joss’ eyes were shut closed, her mouth wide open in laughter.
And it had been at their daughter’s bedside ever since.
“Do you want mommy to face you?” Ethan asked Joss, who had her red T-Rex snuggled under her arm.
She nodded without saying a word.
He turned the picture frame around, and then caressed her head before kissing it.
“Goodnight, sweetheart,” he said, as he shut off the light. Only the dim light of her nightlight remained. It was enough to notice that her eyes were still open, looking at the picture. He stood at the doorway for a moment watching her, his chest tightening at the sight.
Ethan retired to their bedroom, but the emptiness next to him in their bed made it more his bedroom now. He hadn’t been able to sleep through the night ever since she’d passed. He had one arm behind his head as he stared up at the ceiling, recalling the last time he slept with her at his side.
It was in the hospital the day she died.
He woke up early in the morning to the flattening sound of her heart monitor. Her limp body lying in his embrace. Before Ethan could scream for a nurse, two came rushing in along with the oncologist at Edenbrook he trusted the most with Zyra.
They forced him aside and used the defilibrator to try to jumpstart her heart. He stood close by in shock, a hand clamped over his mouth. All he could do was watch as the defibrillator didn’t work. Neither did the chest compressions. Then he heard the oncologist call it: “Time of death, 7:43 am.”
He could feel their sympathetic and apologetic eyes on him as everything around him faded into a gradient of grays to a solid black, except for the deceased body of his love that was before him and still in all color. He dropped beside the bed, his head pressed against her chest. The beat of her heart was absent within the quiet hollowness of her chest.
He cried over her and kissed her, begging her not to leave him, begging her to come back, and denying that she was truly gone. He then felt a hand on his shoulder and a voice telling him that they had to move her. The voice was familiar but through the fog of his grief, he didn’t know who it was. It was either Naveen or Harper because they were the ones there when he finally pulled away.
Zyra dying in his arms was what kept him from sleeping. That and the guilt of wishing he could have done more to save her. He blamed himself for not staying awake like most nights when he would just watch her in case she needed anything during the night. If I had been awake, maybe…
A small knock at his door took him away from the haunting memory. He sat up in bed and saw Joss take small steps towards him. She was clutching her T-Rex and the framed picture in her arms.
“Hey, sweetheart. Everything okay?”
She shook her head. “Can I sleep with you?”
He gave her a half-smile, scooted over, and pulled back the covers.
“Hop in.” Ethan patted the empty space next to him.
He watched her place the picture on the nightstand before climbing in. He pulled the covers over her, and she snuggled up against his side, her stuffed dinosaur squashed between them. He stroked her back as she fell asleep, which helped calm his thoughts.
Thank you for her, Zyra.
SHOPPING WITHOUT YOU
Ethan pushed the cart down the aisle. Jocelyn was at his side, looking at the cereal options on the shelf. Ethan threw in a few things from the opposite side of the aisle into the cart.
“Okay, Joss, which cereal do you want? Apple Jacks?”
But once he turned around, she was gone. His stomach knotted and his heart jumped so hard, it slammed into his chest. He looked up and down the aisle, but only saw a few other shoppers.
Fuck! Zyra would never lose our child! She would kill me right now.
He ran out of the aisle looking in all directions. “Joss!” He raced to another aisle, and that’s when he heard her distinct crying.
“Where’s your mother?” An older woman who looked in her 70s asked her.
“Joss!” He ran towards her, and she turned around when he called out her name.
His daughter just stood there, her body completely stiff and her face all bunched up and wet with tears.
He slid to his knees and hugged her.
“The girl was looking for her mother,” the older woman told him.
“I’m her father,” Ethan said as he picked up Joss.
The woman furrowed her brow. “Right. Of course you are.”
Ethan narrowed his eyes at her, his tone now firm but cold. “Thank you for finding my daughter.”
He forgot about his cart full of groceries and left with his daughter in his arms. He found a bench outside the store and sat down with her sitting on his lap. He waited for her crying to stop before he said anything.
“Jocelyn Dolores, you can’t run off like that.” His voice was a bit stern. Joss had her head lowered, her gaze to the ground. “If anything happened to you…” I wouldn’t be able to survive the loss.
“I’m sorry, daddy,” Joss muttered quietly. “I—I saw this mommy with her daughter. I wanted my mommy, so I—I followed them.”
Her explanation panged him.
“Oh, Joss…” He held her against his chest, tenderly rocking from side to side.
“Am I gonna forget her?”
Ethan’s eyes snapped wide open. He looked down at the sullen greys of her once jewel-like blue eyes.
“No, sweetheart. Never.” He held her tighter against him. “And I will never let that happen because she loved you so much.”
Ethan felt his entire body flare up in anger at the very thought of his daughter growing up without remembering Zyra. But he knew one thing that would help alleviate her pain at least.
He poked the tip of her nose. “I have an idea. How about we escape this place and grab some ice cream?” Joss cracked a smile, and sprinkles of shades of blue began to peak through her irises.
She jumped off her dad’s lap and held her hand out to him. “We can even get mommy’s favorite.”
Ethan smiled and grabbed his daughter’s hand, feigning her help to stand.
“Let me tell you a funny story about your mom and a waffle cone,” he began as they walked hand-in-hand to the car.
YOUR FUTURE VIOLINIST
Jocelyn’s birthday was next week. She wanted to learn how to play the violin, so Ethan decided to hire her a tutor and buy her one. He also thought it would be a great way to help her cope with the loss of her mother. His coping methods were scotch and a long-term project he’s been working on at work. It was an idea Zyra had brought up and had already brainstormed the initial proposal. Ethan was fine-tuning the details and completing the research to present to the Board.
But right now, the violin was his priority.
He followed his daughter around in the music store as she stared wide-eyed at the selection of violins displayed on the wall. He pointed excitedly at ones she liked and told her to keep them in mind. He looked at his watch because he was waiting for someone.
Ethan turned to face the owner of the voice. “Ms. Abadi, thank you for meeting us here.”
“Please, call me Amirah.” Ethan took his daughter’s hand. “Jocelyn, this is Amirah, your violin tutor. She’s going to help you pick out a violin today.”
Suddenly, Ethan’s daughter got shy and leaned against him, her hand to her mouth.
“What is it, sweetheart?”
“Um, what’s that?” Jocelyn pointed to Amirah’s head.
“Oh,” Amirah touched her head, and then smiled. “This is a hijab. I wear it as part of my religion.”
“It looks really nice,” Joss commented shyly. Ethan noticed how his daughter was admiring the woman before her, who was also in a white shirt tucked into some blue skinny jeans and a long blue cardigan sweater. She also had brown skin like her.
“Thank you.” She bent over, her hands on her knees to be at Joss’ eye level. “Hi, Jocelyn. I’m Amirah. I’ve heard so much about you from your dad. I’m looking forward to teaching you.”
“Hi!” Joss’ shyness began to melt away, and she held out her hand for a handshake.
“Are you ready to find your violin?” Amirah asked, shaking Jocelyn’s hand.
“Yeah! I’m really excited.” His daughter never let go of her tutor’s hand. She was now holding it.
Joss looked up at her dad. “Go ahead, sweetheart. I’ll be right here.” He turned to Amirah. “Price is not an issue. If you can find her the one that you think would be best for her, please don’t let there be any limitations.”
“Of course, Dr. Ramsey.”
He watched as Joss skipped beside her tutor as they searched for her violin. Because Amirah was going to be a big part of Joss’ life, he wanted to find the right tutor, not only someone who was professional and worked well with children, but also someone who would be a role model for his daughter. He went through numerous failed interviews, but none of them felt right.
Harper then gave him a recommendation and once he met Amirah, her experience, expertise, and demeanor made him realize that she would be perfect for his little one. During the interview, he could see both of them hitting it off, and by the looks of it, they already were.
His only fear was that he hoped Joss wouldn’t grow too attached in a way that Zyra might be replaced. Amirah was in her mid 20’s, so she’d be more like a big sister. Ethan hoped so, anyway. For him, he could never ever replace Zyra with another woman. He held that same expectation for Joss.
“Daddy!” Joss came up to him carrying a yellow violin. “What do you think?”
“Well, look at that.” He smiled, nodding his head.
TEENAGE ANGST WITHOUT YOU
Jocelyn slammed the car door behind her.
Ethan looked through his rearview mirror at her as she buckled her seatbelt and crossed her arms against her chest in a loud huff.
“I take it, I’m your chauffeur?”
His daughter just rolled her eyes.
Her attitude had been salty for the past week. She also hadn’t been talking to him. She’d either pop in some earbuds or disappear into her room, slamming the door behind her.
Slamming things had become her go-to expression of emotion lately.
This entire week he’d wished Zyra was with him to deal with this adolescent period. But it was all on him now, and he needed to talk to her. Not there, though. There were other parents behind him waiting to pick up their kids. He drove off, leaving the usual silence between them in the car. But he glanced at her through the mirror from time to time. She never moved. Her head was resting against the headrest, her gaze lost somewhere outside through the window.
“Grandpa Alan too busy to pick me up?” She asked in a bitter tone.
“What?” His gaze snapped to her reflection in the mirror.
“Nothing.” She shrugged.
He narrowed his eyes and looked for a parking area. McDonald’s. That’ll have to do. He pulled in, parked, and turned the car off.
“Get up front. Now,” he commanded with irritation in his tone.
She rolled her eyes again. Ethan turned around sharply. “Jocelyn Dolores Ramsey, now!”
“And don’t you dare slam any of these doors.”
He saw her mouth a “whatever” as she exited the car and hesitantly got into the front seat. At least she didn’t slam the doors.
“What is going on with you?”
She just shrugged.
“Joss, I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s troubling you.”
“Why would you care anyway?”
The words nearly pushed him and forced him back into his seat. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“You really wanna do this, dad?” The emphasis on “dad” wasn’t a good sign. “How about the fact that you’re rarely home. Sometimes I ask to extend my tutoring sessions just so I don’t have to go home to an empty house.”
“Joss.” He sighed. “You know I’m busy with work. That doesn’t mean I’m not here for you.”
“It doesn’t matter. Maybe it would’ve been better if I’d lived with grandma.”
He felt that push again and it began to burn against his chest. “Grandma Janet?”
“Yeah. At least people know we’re family and she’d be home.” The anger had disappeared from her voice and her expression. Now she just looked like a lost child. “People think I’m Uncle Tobias’s kid, not yours. Do you know how much that hurts over time? I physically don’t look like my dad, who is rarely home these days. I sometimes feel like I don’t know where I belong. I just feel so alone.”
“Sweetheart, I had no idea.” He reached out to take her hand.
“I wish mom was here. I know I would’ve felt I belonged with her.”
And here Ethan had thought she might have replaced or not have remembered her mom. He had prepared for those two scenarios, but not this one. He was not prepared to be the one who was rejected. But he could understand her pain. He noticed how people looked at them and not believing that she was his biological child. If Zyra were with them, people would. Sometimes it was difficult raising a Black child without her Black mother, he thought.
Ethan moved closer to her and held her hand tightly, hoping she wouldn’t pull away.
“I know I can’t possibly understand what you’re feeling, Joss. And I know I’ve been working a lot. Doctors aren’t easy to love, but that’s not an excuse. Perhaps we can try to find a schedule that works for both of us.” He could feel his pulse racing. “But before that, I want you to know that you are my daughter, and you will always be my daughter. We don’t need others to tell us whether we’re a family or not. We know and that’s all that matters. That’s all that should matter.”
“Daddy…” Joss dropped her head, her chin to her chest.
“Sweetheart, we may not have the same color of skin or the same hair texture but you know what we do share? Look at me sweetheart, please.”
She raised her head and met her dad’s gaze.
“When I look at you, I see myself looking back. When you were born, I held you in my arms and the first thing you did was lock your eyes on me. You didn’t close them or flick your gaze around like newborns. You looked directly at me, your blue eyes shining and mine were shining right back. At that moment I knew that we would always have a special bond because there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you. Nothing.”
“I’m sorry, daddy.” Joss leaned into her dad’s shoulder and cried. “I love you. I just miss mommy so much that sometimes… it hurts so much I feel lost.”
Ethan closed his eyes in understanding. “I love you, too, sweetheart. You are the most important person in my life. And remember, we can miss mom together. Just say the word.”
“The word,” she chuckled through her tears.
There she was. His Joss was returning to him.
A BEST MAN WITHOUT YOU
The two were an unexpected pair. What was more unexpected was that Ethan found himself standing next to Tobias as his best man. He watched at how his best friend recited his vows to the woman he loved, June Hirata. It was also the most expression he saw from June after working with her for years on the team.
As they exchanged vows, he couldn’t help but let his eyes roam across the audience, secretly wishing everything in the past five years was a lie. That he would see her sitting next to their daughter, glowing as bright as her smile. But as his eyes searched, they came up empty.
He felt the pang of regret in his heart.
He could have done this with the woman he loved. He knew it was something she had wanted. He would have given her anything she’d desired, but why hadn’t he given her this? It was too late. But just because they weren’t officially married, it didn’t negate the life they’d built together. He just wished that that life hadn’t ended so prematurely.
He heard clapping, and shook away his feelings, joining in the clapping as the newlywed couple kissed.
And as he could only observe the festivities at the reception and fake confidence in his speech as the best man, he realized that everything they said about grief was a lie. It didn’t get easier over time. In fact, he would do anything to take Zyra’s hand, lead her to the dance floor, and hold her close as they swayed to the music, eventually tuning it all out as he only tuned in to her.
He had rejected a couple of women’s offers to dance because of it. He also knew Tobias was trying to set him up with one of the bridesmaids, but he never gave any of them a second glance.
He felt a tap on his shoulder.
“Wanna dance, daddy?”
The blank expression on his face immediately lit up at the sight of his daughter.
“Of course, sweetheart.”
THE DEDICATION TO YOU
It had taken a good year for the Board to finally approve Zyra’s proposal—the one Ethan had been working on diligently. It was an extension program to the diagnostics team to specifically assist those in communities who faced health disparities based on race and ethnicity, disability, and sexual identity. June had been helping Ethan with this because he had chosen her to lead this program once it was approved. He knew she deserved the opportunity and he trusted her to preserve Zyra’s memory with the program.
Five years later, the program grew into a success with June’s talent at gaining funding to keep the program running, and also with selecting a diverse team who represented those very communities. This was Zyra’s passion and the hospital dedicated it to her. He knew she would be proud of the work they were doing in her name.
June was being interviewed about the program on the 6 o’clock news. Ethan and Joss had planned to watch it together before dinner.
When Ethan arrived home, he knocked on the door to Joss’s studio, as she called it. Ethan had it constructed in one of the guest rooms he didn’t need, even after moving his dad in to live with them. He was out with his bowling league, so he wasn’t home.
The studio was soundproof so that she could practice her violin at any time of the day, especially since Alan retired early. She had a school concert coming up, and her orchestra director had given certain students solos. One of those solos was her.
Ethan popped his head in, and the sound of a violin immediately stopped.
“Sorry, sweetheart. Just letting you know I’m home.”
He smiled as he saw Jenner Jr.—or Junior for short—lying at her feet. As he closed the door, he heard his daughter shout “Wait!”
He popped his head back in.
“Could you listen to something for me?”
“Yeah, of course.”
Ethan fully opened the door and sat down on the couch on one side of the room. The couch not only served to seat Joss’ usual audience of her dad, her grandpas Alan and Naveen, Uncle Tobias, Aunt Sienna, Aunt Harper, and Amirah, but he also knew his daughter usually fell asleep on it while reading her music theory books.
Her first violin, the yellow one, hung on the wall above the couch.
Junior jumped up on the couch next to Ethan and then laid his head in Ethan’s lap. Ethan reclined back, one leg crossed over the other, and petted the black Labrador on top of the head as he waited.
“So this is something Amirah has been helping me with for my eventual application for Julliard. Well, one of them anyway.”
Ethan just gave his daughter an encouraging smile and then listened to her play. He knew the song immediately from the first note. The way his daughter played it showcased the delicate way she glided the bow along the strings, the quick and fine movement of her fingers as she effortlessly shifted through the complicated arrangement of notes of the song. His daughter had been a natural when she began taking lessons, but the way she progressed over time showcased her true genius. It wasn’t in science but in music. She had found her niche, and she flourished in it just like her mother flourished as a doctor.
“What did you think dad?”
Ethan felt a tear roll down his cheek. Then he opened his eyes to look at his daughter with affection and admiration shining from them..
“Yeah, mom’s favorite Aria from the first opera you ever took her to, right?”
Ethan wiped away the tear and nodded. “She’d be so proud of you.”
“She is because she’s always watching over me.” That was new to him. Joss had never said something like that about her mom before. Ethan’s logical and scientific mind didn’t allow him to believe in life after death. But because of how much he still ached for Zyra, a part of him wanted to believe his daughter’s words.
“I’m dedicating this song to her in my application by the way.” She positioned her violin back on her shoulder and readied herself to play.
Ethan draped one arm across the back of the couch, closed his eyes, and imagined Zyra being right there next to him listening to their daughter’s dedication.
THE ANNIVERSARY OF YOU
Ethan didn’t hear the door open and close. He didn’t hear his name being called either.
He sat in front of the fireplace, staring past the dancing of the flames. It was the only light giving shape to some of the objects that decorated the room. A glass of scotch rested in one hand, while the other hand was empty and laid limp against his thigh. Junior was lying on the floor against his right foot.
He didn’t know when the sight of his daughter registered, but given the concerned look on her face, she probably uttered his name multiple times. She was knelt in front of him, her hands resting on his thigh, as her worried gaze finally met his melancholy one.
“Hey, sweetheart. Did you enjoy the movie with your friends?”
“Oh, daddy.” She hugged him. This time it was a comforting gesture in reverse. He felt it was her trying to comfort him.
Ethan hugged her back with his empty hand.
“I shouldn’t have left you alone tonight.”
“No.” She got up and sat on the arm of the chair. “It’s the anniversary of mom’s death. Dad—”
“Hey, your mom would want you to go out and enjoy yourself. To live your life spending time with your friends.”
“I can do that for the other 364 days of the year.”
“Fair enough,” he chuckled as he took a sip of his scotch.
“I’m surprised you’re not at the hospital drowning in your work.”
“Your old man is drowning in his scotch instead.” Ethan raised his glass, giving his daughter a wink, before swigging the rest down in one gulp.
“How much have you drunk, dad?” Joss snatched the glass from his hand. Ethan just sighed.
His daughter left to take the glass to the kitchen. She was probably putting away the opened bottle of scotch he’d left out too. He didn’t need her around to take care of him. She’d be leaving next year to college at some point, so he wanted to start practicing spending this night alone.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door.
“I’ll get it,” Joss said as she ran to the front door.
Ethan didn’t even bother to glance behind him. His mind began to drift away to his thoughts of Zyra. Before he could lock himself inside his head, the lights turned on.
“Hey, man. I brought pizza.”
Ethan finally looked over his shoulder. “Tobias? What are you doing here?”
“I called him, dad. I thought we could all just hang out tonight. Where’s grandpa?”
“Bowling. Where else?”
Tobias and Joss laughed. Ethan smirked and pushed himself up from the chair. Joss set a pack of soda on the coffee table. Tobias set the large pizza next to it.
“I suggest poker,” Tobias said with a mischievous grin. Junior barked. “See, even the mutt agrees.”
Ethan rolled his eyes and shook his head, but his smirk remained.
“Fine. I’ll go get some plates. What did you get anyway?”
“Mom’s fav,” Joss stated. “Bacon bits with black olives.”
“Your mother, I swear.”
A STUDY PARTNER WITHOUT YOU
Ethan was typing away, trying to finish up some reports before heading home. He gave himself an hour, an hour and a half at most. He heard the door slide open. He peeked over the rim of his glasses and saw his daughter carrying a paper bag and her backpack hanging off her left shoulder.
“Hi, sweetheart.” Ethan stood up and moved around his desk to greet her with a hug. “What are you doing here?”
Joss placed the paper bag on the conference table and her backpack on the seat of one of the chairs.
“I was making dinner, some spinach stuffed chicken, but I thought I’d bring you some and maybe we can have dinner together.” Her voice sounded hesitant.
“That sounds great, actually. And it looks like I taught you well.” Ethan began pulling out the dishes from the paper bag. He could already smell the savory aroma, which was making his mouth water.
“And grandpa was fed, so no worries.”
Ethan chuckled as he took out the last dish. “That’s my girl, always looking out for her grandpa.”
“And you.” Joss plopped down in one of the chairs and pulled out a thick chemistry book from her backpack. “I was also wondering if you could help me with my chemistry homework. Why did I choose to take chemistry in my senior year?”
“To challenge yourself?” Ethan took the seat next to his daughter and opened the lid to the container with the chicken. He handed his daughter a fork. “What’s the homework?”
Joss turned to a page and groaned. She just tapped the handle of her fork against the heading on the page.
“Amino acids,” Ethan read out loud. He began to explain, but his daughter’s eyes began to glaze over.
“This is impossible. This science stuff is not for me. I’m more artistic like Uncle Jacob.” She dropped her forehead onto the table.
“Can I help?” Baz asked from behind them.
“Baz! Hi!” Joss got up and hugged him. “Dad’s talking to me like I’m an intern. I have no idea what he’s saying.”
Ethan scoffed as he took a bite of the chicken. “You wanted my help, Joss. And if you were an intern, I would expect you to already know each amino acid.”
He always struggled trying to simplify science for his daughter. He was used to explaining concepts to those who already had a background in medicine and science. So whenever his daughter asked for help, there was usually some tension along the way. Zyra was an inspirational teacher to so many interns over the years, so he knew she would have known how to teach these concepts to their daughter who understood her music more than she did science. For him, though, it was a struggle.
Joss threw her arms around her dad’s shoulders from behind. “Oh, come on, dad. I’m just kidding around.”
Ethan patted his daughter’s arm. “Baz, pull up a seat and have some chicken. Joss made it.”
“Oh, I’d love some. I’d also love to help you with amino acids, too. I just got off.”
Joss pulled out her notebook and pencil bag. She then rubbed her hands together. “Okay, boys, let’s do this!”
THE ACCEPTANCE LETTER WITHOUT YOU
It was the middle of the day. Ethan returned to his office, pinching the bridge of his nose. It was becoming one of his more stressful days. Was his hair greying due to age, stress, or both? That didn’t matter. Neither did the “aged like fine wine” comments he heard people saying. That comment only meant something coming from Zyra. He began to wonder what she would have looked like now, ten years after her death. She would have been 48 and without a doubt vibrant, sexy, strong, and the greatest diagnostician he’d have even known.
The thought of how young she was when she died from cancer made a familiar pain return in his chest.
He made himself a fresh cup of coffee and pulled out some MRI scans for his next patient to help distract his mind.
The sound of his daughter’s voice startled him so much that he almost spilt his hot coffee on his lap. He saw Naveen with Joss entering the office. With Joss standing next to him, he could really see how tall she had become. At 18, she was 6’0. Zyra was right. She would be tall like him. It was another thing they shared, like they’re eyes. He knew that he and Joss would have teased Zyra for being the shortest one in the family. He mentally chuckled at the image of Zyra laughing at their jokes.
“We’ve been looking everywhere for you,” Naveen said.
Ethan slowly stood up, placing the tablet with his scans on his desk. “What’s wrong? And why aren’t you in school?”
“It’s a half day, dad. And when I got home, I found something in the mail.” Joss looked over at her grandpa, who nodded towards her.
“Go on, honey.” Naveen’s face was beaming, and he gently pushed her towards her dad.
Ethan noticed she was holding a piece of paper in her hand. She handed him the paper and bit her lip just like her mother to stifle her smile.
He adjusted his glasses, unfolded the paper, and read:
Congratulations! It gives me tremendous pleasure to inform you that the Juilliard Violin faculty and the Committee on Admissions have granted you admission to the Bachelor of Music program at the Juilliard School for the 2040-2041 academic year.
His arms encircled her, hugging her as if he was holding the most precious thing in the entire world. And he was.
“Mom would be so proud, wouldn’t she?”
“She already is, sweetheart.”
THE EMPTY NEST WITHOUT YOU
Ethan closed the front door behind him. He dropped his keys on the table by the door and went to the kitchen to pour himself some scotch. It disappeared from the glass in one gulp.
He had just returned from New York from dropping Joss off at Juilliard. He went with her on a tour of the campus, saw her dorm and where she placed their family picture, and even met some of her professors.
The way the entire posture of her body changed while being there proved to him that she was in the right place. She appeared to be in her element, like when he was at John Hopkins.
But now, he was alone without her. She was his only link to the woman he loved, and now they were both gone.
He felt Junior nuzzle his leg with his snout as he whined sympathetically or in hunger.
His father came out from the back, slightly limping on his cane.
“How did it go?”
“She’ll be happy there.” Ethan’s expression was emotionless but his eyes were filled with a sad longing.
Alan leaned against one of the stools at the long kitchen island.
“I think I understand why you could never stop loving mom.” His eyes slowly met his dad’s. “Tobias always encouraged me to date again. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t because I could never stop loving that woman. She was…” He looked up at the ceiling, his face giving a humorless smirk. “So damn special. She was my equal. My everything. And she taught me what love is.” He shook his head and chuckled softly. “The love I thought didn’t exist. She opened my eyes to so many things, and when I was with her, I was my best self.”
Ethan’s throat began to burn, and he swallowed hard. His eyes began to well in tears.
“How could I move on from someone who meant that much to me? Even after all these years, I still love her more and more each day. And it makes me so angry that I wasn’t able to raise Joss with her, to have her be there to take Joss to college, to see what Joss does next.”
“Ethan, I know this advice is a bit late, but try to focus on the time you two were able to have together. And with that time, you had the most amazing daughter. In my opinion, the most amazing granddaughter.” Alan smiled softly.
“Joss is my entire reason for living.”
“You are for me too, son.”
His dad was still smiling, and Ethan could feel how much his dad truly loved him.
“Well, I guess we have something in common after all. We stayed in love with unattainable women. Yours left you. Mine… died on me.” The finality of the words should have hurt more, but instead he did something he hadn’t done in the past 48 hours—he laughed.
They continued talking more throughout the evening until Ethan’s dad retired to his room, leaving him alone in the rest of the empty house. The talk with his dad was temporary relief like a Band-Aid, but now everything was hitting him again.
He walked around recalling places in the house he saw Joss. He saw Zyra. He ended up in Joss’s studio and took a seat on the couch. Junior took his usual spot next to him. Next to the computer he saw a framed picture of Zyra. Had Joss always had that there, he asked himself.
He stood, walked over, and picked it up. The picture was in a bright, yellow frame, which contrasted with the more muted colors of the desk and computer. Zyra was smiling wide, showing teeth. Her brown eyes sparkling bright with their gold flecks. Her curly hair was in twists at the top with the rest hanging past her shoulders, long and thick. Ethan traced his fingers along the soft features of her face.
“I love you. Always will.”
THE CONCERT WITH YOU
Jocelyn became the first Black first-chair violinist for the London Symphony Orchestra. Ethan took a trip to London to be there for her first performance. Since his dad passed away a year prior, he needed time away from the empty house.
Jocelyn got him and her boyfriend front row seats, which was an excellent view to see her up close. As he waited for the show to begin, he had time to speak to her boyfriend, Tristan. He was from Wales and an architect. They met at an art gallery and hit it off over some discussion of a piece of contemporary art, which Tristan enjoyed but Joss felt was obnoxious.
Ethan chuckled at that.
The more they spoke, the more Ethan came to see why perhaps his daughter liked this man. Zyra probably would have liked him too. But there was still a part of his cynicism that kept him suspicious of the man. It would take more than sitting next to each other at a show to fully give his approval.
The performance began and the pride of seeing his daughter up there showing her talent to the world nearly brought tears to his eyes. He never thought that that yellow violin and her tutor Amirah would lead to something as magnificent and breathtaking as seeing his daughter play with one of the most renown symphonies in the world.
But then something familiar and unexpected came up in the show. Jocelyn took center stage doing a solo of her mother’s Aria with the symphony playing in the background. Ethan choked back his tears as he watched his daughter keep her mother’s memory alive.
They were both wrong to be afraid of her forgetting her mother. It had been Jocelyn’s music that kept Zyra breathing and present in their lives all this time.
How much he loved his daughter for that gift because Zyra was speaking to him now.
THE REUNION WITH YOU
Ethan was diagnosed with dementia in his early 70s. The disease progressed rapidly, and Jocelyn moved him in with her because she wanted him to be with his family, not locked up alone in some hospice. He was the one who had taught her the importance of family. Because after her mother passed, her father ensured she had people in her life—having grandpa Alan move in with them, letting her spend some school vacation time in Colorado with her mother’s family, being able to visit her hospital family any time she wanted, bringing Amirah into her life, and having her Uncle Tobias whom she had a special relationship with. Even though she grew up without her mom, everywhere she turned, she wasn’t alone. This was all because of her dad. And now, she would ensure he wouldn’t be alone during his final days.
His daughter started noticing signs when he forgot their scheduled video chats, and when she came to visit, he couldn’t find things like his glasses or phone. She thought it was due to him getting older, but then he started forgetting big things, like the fact that she was married, or the name of the hospital he used to work at, or the fact that grandpa Naveen had passed away years ago.
Now her father was only a shell of the man he once was. Everything about the infamous Dr. Ethan Ramsey was stripped away quickly over time, especially all of his knowledge he accumulated over his nearly 50-year career as one of the country’s leading diagnosticians. On his worst days, he couldn’t even remember his own name.
Joss’s husband helped feed and bathe him and gave him weekly shaves. Joss especially liked to play him the albums from her time in the London Symphony and her solo albums. When they played, her dad’s mouth would twitch, and he would mumble something she didn’t understand. All she knew was that the music stimulated him in some way.
She even had a nurse who came by the house a couple times a week at first, but more often once his condition began to deteriorate.
And she knew it was nearly time.
Ethan could barely feel someone’s hand gripping his. His breathing was shallow. The faces surrounding him were nothing but as hazy as his vision. Even if he could see them, he wouldn’t have been able to recognize them. His best friend, Tobias. His son-in-law, Tristan. His twin grandchildren who were named after him and Zyra. His own daughter.
But through the blur, one person came to him. He could see her so clear as if he had the vision of his 20-year-old self again. She came to sit beside him on his bed. She was dressed in a yellow dress under a white lab coat. Her smile was soft and affectionate. Her eyes shined as bright as the color of her dress. She was young and radiant, carrying a vibrant energy with her.
“I’m here.” She said in a voice he hadn’t heard in almost 30 years.
His body relaxed under the gentle caress of her hand along the side of his face. Her eyes never left his. To him, they felt like home.
Then she leaned over and pressed her lips against his in a soft, warm, and comforting kiss.
His eyes closed. The movement in his body stilled. And with a ragged, whispered breath, he exhaled one word: “Zyra.”
Only his daughter was close enough to hear it. And she felt the life leave from his hand and saw a single teardrop hanging at the corner of his eye.
She thought, for him, he was hallucinating due to the reduced blood flow to the brain. That would have been his scientific explanation supported by research. But for her, it just confirmed that her mother had not only been watching over her, but watching over her dad, too.
She knew how important her mom was to him. He tried to hide his pain from her for so many years, trying to make her happy and even giving her the world. And he did. Along with his love that she never doubted.
What surprised her the most was that her father hadn’t spoken a single word in almost half a year. Anything that came out of his mouth was muffled sounds. But now, on his deathbed, he spoke one full word and it was her mother’s name. Not even dementia could take away the deep, devoted love he held for her mom. And he had been devoted to her for the rest of his life.
And that thought made her cry.
Jocelyn brought her dad’s hand to her mouth and kissed his knuckles. Then she tenderly ran her hand through his hair and smiled through her tears. She leaned over and whispered in his ear.
“It’s okay, daddy. I’ll be okay. Go to mom and tell her I love her. Find peace together, daddy. Find peace.”