The Beat of Your Heart

I used to think of you as just my best friend, but now- No, I corrected my mental dialogue. That wasn't the way to go. I had to tell him how I felt, I knew that much. But that wasn't the way to go. I wanted it to be subtle, but meaningful. Subtle because if he didn't return my adoration, I didn't want to destroy our friendship; but meaningful so he knew he wasn't just one of many insignificant crushes I had in the past.

Nervous, I smoothed the wrinkles from my dress for the thousandth time. My floor-length ice blue dress seemed perfect when I found it hanging on the rack – and when I tried it on, the feeling of the silk against my skin – but the strapless number wasn't my usual attire.

The graduation ceremony this morning had been arduous, all I wanted was to get my diploma and hit the road. His face stopped me. Travis was a year younger than I was and he was my best friend; there was nothing he didn't know about me.

Except for this one thing, but I had plans to remedy that tonight. I loved him. It hadn't always been this way, it used to be strictly platonic; he still thought it was. But there was something about his warm brown eyes that left me breathless. I knew he would be there for me no matter what. Travis meant the world to me; he just didn't know it yet.

I wasn't leaving for New York until the end of summer, but my heart said 'now' so today would be when he found out. For better or for worse. I had felt this way for at least a year now, but I was terrified to say anything. I couldn't lose my best friend.

.:.

"Have fun sweetheart. Be safe, okay?" My mom requested, kissing my cheek. I nodded, giving her a hug. "I will, I promise." She smiled at me just as the doorbell rang. I grabbed my clutch, slipping on my heels. Opening the door, I looked up into the chocolate brown eyes that I was so in love with.

"Hey." I said quietly. Travis looked absolutely amazing in his tux, his dark brown hair curling around his ears. "Wow Jen, you look stunning." He breathed, stepping forward to wrap me in a hug.

I hugged him back, loving the way I fit into his arms like a matching puzzle piece. "You ready?" He asked, releasing me from the embrace. "Nope! Let's go." I replied cheerfully. He chuckled at my answer.

"Bye Anne!" Travis called through the entryway to my mother. "Bye honey, you two have fun!" My mom replied. I rolled my eyes, dragging him to the car. "C'mon. If you're done flirting with my mom we should probably get going." I teased, poking his side. "Hey!" He exclaimed, but followed me to the car.

Travis opened the door for me and I slid into the passenger's seat. "So where are we going anyways?" I asked. Travis had said he wanted to surprise me, so this was essentially my graduation present.

"You'll see." He replied, a smile beginning to form on his face. "You know I don't like surprises…" I grumbled. "You know your pouty face doesn't work on me…" He replied in a teasing voice. The sun had already set and the darkness was quickly becoming all encompassing. Travis made a right, a left, and then finally another right before pulling the car over and setting it in park.

"Sit right there and close your eyes, okay?" Travis requested. I did as he asked, placing a hand over my closed eyes for extra reassurance that I was listening. I heard his door open and close. It felt like forever, but it was probably only a minute before he opened my door.

"Keep your eyes shut." He ordered. Travis helped me out of the car, placing a guiding hand on my shoulder, and using the other to cover my eyes. He must have kicked the car door shut because I heard it close but his hands never left me. "Okay, walk forward."

My shoes clicked on the cement sidewalk. I stumbled slightly when my heel caught on a crack, but Travis caught me with an arm around my waist. Making sure I was steady, he removed his hands. "You can open your eyes now." I opened them, gasping.

In front of me was an old-fashioned park, complete with the wonderfully dangerous metal equipment. We used to visit this park all the time; I don't know why we stopped. It had always been one of my favorite places. But that wasn't what had made me gasp. The entire playground was glittered with twinkling lights – I couldn't imagine all the time this had taken.

"Do you like it?" Travis asked softly. I whipped around to face him. "Do I? It's beautiful Trav. What gave you this amazing idea?" I asked, beaming up at him. He shrugged his shoulders. "I just figured that you'd like to see it all lit up…and maybe since you weren't interested in the graduation dance, we could have our own little party right here." He finished hesitantly.

I threw my arms around him in a hug. "You're the best Trav. What am I going to do without you?" I asked. He hugged me back tightly; I could feel the beat of his heart against my own.

"You'll never be completely without me. I promise no matter where you are, if you need me, then I'll be there." He replied seriously, staring into my eyes. Travis released me, turning back to duck his head into the car.

Music started playing softly. He came back. "Dance with me." Travis said, extending his hand. I accepted and he pulled me close waltzing me around beneath the breathtaking lights.

I should tell him, right now. The moment is perfect. "Hey Trav." I said softly. He slowed our dance to a stop. Without letting go of me, he replied, "Yes?" I bit my lip, fighting the tiny part of me that was still terrified beyond belief.

"Hey, what's the matter?" Travis asked, holding me to his chest. His heart was beating erratically; part of me hoped that I was the reason.

"Travis, I-" My confession was interrupted as he collapsed in my arms, I struggled to support his weight. Finally I was able to lower him to the ground.

"Travis?" I asked softly. When I received no response, I tried shouting.

"Travis! Stop it! This isn't funny!" I shouted at him, tears springing to my eyes. I lowered my head to his mouth – he wasn't breathing.

Panic seized me; unbuttoning his tuxedo and the white dress shirt beneath it I laid my head against his chest. Nothing. I stood up and sprinted to the car, sobbing. I pulled my phone from my clutch and dialed 911.

"911 Emergency services, what is your emergency?" The operator asked in a monotonous. Rushing back to Travis, I managed to give the situation and our location. She said that an ambulance was on its way.

Without waiting for her instructions to do so, I started CPR. My tears were falling freely, splattering my dress, Travis's chest and making my mascara drip.

"No Travis. NO! You can't do this to me, you are not allowed to die." I yelled at him, while counting the number of chest compressions that I was administering. Somehow I managed to fill his lungs with air even though it felt as though I couldn't get a real breath for myself.

Changing tactics, I pleaded with the amazing boy who lay before me, dying. "Please. Travis I never even got to tell you. I love you, Travis I love you so much. You can't die now. Please."

The sound of sirens gave me no feelings of relief. Paramedics rushed to where we were. I was asked to back up, out of the way. I didn't want to move an inch, but if it would save Travis… I moved as quickly as humanly possible.

"Clear!" I heard one of them shout, and then the terrible sound of the electrical shock that meant they were trying to restart his heart. Some voltage numbers were tossed around and 'clear' was shouted once or twice more.

But the only sound that came in loud and clear was the drone of the EKG machine continuing to flat line. A warm hand touched my shoulder.

"I'm very sorry miss…" Everything was fuzzy after that. Like a bad dream where it doesn't matter what you do you can't move and you're stuck facing the horrors of the night. The paramedics had backed up a foot or so.

I knelt down beside the dead body of my best friend, and the man that I was in love with. I pushed his dark hair from his forehead, my tears soaking his face.

I rested my head on his chest, realizing I would never hear what had become the most significant sound in my world ever again – the beat of his heart.

.:.

"Travis Matthews was a remarkable young man…" His father spoke at the podium, tears clogging his voice.

I didn't want to be here. It was four days after graduation. I should be hanging out with my best friend. Who knows? Maybe by now we might have even been something more. I fingered the edge of my black dress as I tried to tune out Mark's words.

Travis would have hated this. All the black. The flowers. He was too alive for it to end this way. It still hadn't completely registered that he was actually gone. I kept expecting him to walk through the doors and laugh at all of us and our tear sodden faces.

He would ruffle my hair in that infuriating way, and it would only make me love him all the more.

I didn't realize that every eye in the room was trained on me, until my mom, who was standing beside me, tapped my shoulder. Pulled from my thoughts, I made my way to the foreboding podium.

The polished dark wood of his casket gleamed in the morning sun. I drew a ragged breath.

" Trav meant the world to me. He was more than just my best friend, he was my protector, my encourager." I exhale, the breath knocked out of me by the sheer pain of this moment.

"I loved Travis, with all of my heart. He was so young, so full of life. I am comforted by the fact he had great amounts of faith in God. More than I could ever have. But I'm absolutely dying inside, because I never got to tell him how I really felt.

I was completely, irrevocably, and undeniably in love with him. I still am, he's just not around any more; and he never knew.

In the minute that I had paused, terrified by the What Ifs – what if this ruins or friendship? What he rejects me? What if I trip over the words? – In seconds God took back the most precious thing in my world.

I hadn't even contemplated the biggest What If there ever could be. What if I don't get the chance? I didn't get that chance." I paused taking a deep breath.

"Do you hear me Trav? I love you. I love you so much it hurts. I always have and I always will." I screamed to the sky, my words laced with pure agony.

Turning back to the people surrounding me, I finished my speech. "Time is so insanely precious. You have no idea. If you feel something, say it. I guess I have nothing left to say.

I would give anything and everything just to hear the beat of your heart one more time, Trav." I finished in a whisper.

Walking around the podium I kissed my fingertips, pressing them to the lid of the coffin. I couldn't take it anymore, I ran. I ran and I ran until I reached the park where my worst nightmare had occurred.

The lights were still trailing the metal equipment; no one had bothered to take them down apparently. Out of energy as well as the will to move, I collapsed in the same spot Travis had; soaking the ground with my tears.

.:.

I don't know how long I lay there before I felt a hand on my head. I pulled myself into a sitting position, meeting the eyes of Travis's mom. Her eyes were as red and puffy as mine were.

"Come here sweetheart." She said choking on the words while extending her arms for a hug. I fell into them willingly, sobbing even more tears. We cried together for several minutes before I noticed that she had something in her hand.

I sniffled and sat up slowly. "I wasn't going to give this to you; I didn't want to make it hurt anymore than it already would. But after hearing your confession, I thought you might like it."

With that said she handed me an envelope with my name written across it in Travis's messily endearing scrawl. I looked up at her question in my eyes. "He was going to slip it under your door after he dropped you off that night, he thought you'd find it very… romantic." She finished, a sad look in her eyes.

I opened the envelope carefully, my eyes searching out the first words.

Jen,

Knowing that you are indeed a secret romantic, I figured this was the best way to tell you something that I've been wanting to say for a long time but was having trouble finding the words.

I love you. I love the way you fit into my arms. I love your smile. I love your bright blue eyes and they way they can see through my every pretense.

I love the pink blush that paints your cheeks when I tease you. I love the way you're so directionally challenged you're practically handicapped. I love the way you make me feel. I love the feeling of your heart beating against my chest.

I could name a hundred thousand more things and still not show the magnitude of my feelings.

I know you swore that you could never go for a younger guy, and I know that I'm your best friend – there are two strikes against me.

But against all common sense, I love you. I was scared to tell you, because I didn't want to ruin the amazing thing we have.

But when you're this in love with someone, it's pretty hard to conceal. Every second I spend with you, my love grows beyond belief.

Don't feel as though you have to reciprocate any of these feelings, if you don't want me it won't change a thing. I'll still always be there for you.

Love,

Trav

P.S. I just wanted you to know that I didn't fall in love with you. I knew who you were and exactly what I was getting into. There was no tripping or stumbling or falling, I walked to the edge and jumped willingly without hesitation.

I held the now tearstained letter to my chest tenderly. "I love you too, Trav." I whispered to no one but myself and the boy who would always hold my heart.