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The rocky surface rubs against the soles of my bare feet like sandpaper, the cool breeze blows my hair across my face and sends chills through my rigid body. I curl my toes and the coarse sand shifts a little. My mind is racing, but I don't know what I'm thinking about. Goose bumps cover the entirety of me, and the sound of the crashing waves fills my ears. Salty air surrounds me, and I take a deep breath. A final thought enters my head-- I'm second guessing again. Should I do it? Is it worth it? I curse myself for doubting during the last seconds. Slowly, tentatively, I move my right foot forward, closer to the edge. That's it, you can do it. Only one more step… I think to myself. Now my heart's racing and I get caught up in the moment. I take another step, and my toes are gripping the smooth rocks at the edge as a few stray pebbles and some sand tumble over it. I lean forward just in time to see them splash into the churning water below. This is it. It's time. Ready… set… A strong hand grasps my shoulder from behind, I flinch, and the sudden warmth sends a tingle through me. I know who it is without looking.
"What are you doing here?" I say flatly, without turning, without moving, still staring out at the endless expanse in front of me.
"You didn't think I'd let you do this alone, did you?" the voice questions. Silence.
"It seems like I do everything alone now," the words I had carefully thought about for the last week came out just as I'd planned, without the slightest hint of emotion.
"Why?" he answers almost immediately.
"Are you really going to do this with me?" I say, pushing his question aside, trying to focus on the heart that I'm drawing in the thin layer of sand with my toe.
"On the count of three. Ready?" Everything changes so quickly, my head is spinning, I don't know what to say.
"Yes," I answer, without thinking about it. Oh no… what have I done?
"1…" he slides his hand into mine, "2…"
"Wait," I may have just interrupted one of the most important moments of my life.
His other hand touches my cheek and I turn to look at him as he softly whispers "What is it Tay?" My heart melts at the sound of his voice and the words I'd always hoped to say suddenly escape my mind.
All that comes out is "Oh Justin" I can feel the tears forming in my eyes, the sting of holding them back, trying so hard not to let him see me cry, but my efforts fail and I succumb to the overwhelming emotion. A single teardrop falls down my cheek, leaving a trail of salty water. When it is just above the corner of my mouth, he brushes it away gently with his finger.
"Don't cry, Taylor. What's wrong?" he asks, in the softest, most caring tone imaginable.
"I… I… I'm so sorry," is all I can manage to stutter. His gaze locks with mine, and I turn away, trying to hide the rest of my tears, but he lifts my chin up and I become lost in his eyes, those twinkling black eyes that always seem to make me feel… safe.
After what feels like an eternity, he says "I know you didn't do it," then turns away, taking with him my momentary safety net, and stares out at the ocean. I look down, wondering if this is really happening, or if it's just another dream. The cold is getting to me now, chilling my bones, and I start to shiver. Sensing my need, he turns to face me again, takes off his black and grey striped sweatshirt and wraps it around my shoulders. He's standing behind me now, with his arms around me, still staring out at the ever-changing waters, rocking slowly back and forth, back and forth to the rhythm of the waves below. Thankful for his selflessness, I turn my head, look up at him, and smile appreciatively. He smiles back and I rest my head against his chest.
Then, remembering his last words to me, I say, in shocked disbelief "You do?" I can feel his heart beating in time with mine, and I start to feel like maybe, just maybe I really do belong somewhere, and I wasn’t just a mistake, or someone with no purpose, that maybe, someone does truly love me. His reply comes, finally, and confirms my hopes.
"Yes, I do. I've been dying to tell you for three weeks, but I couldn't find you. I looked and looked, but it was like you just…" he pauses, apparently trying to think of the right word, "disappeared." A wave of relief washes over me. He said three weeks, I thought, and it happened exactly three weeks ago today. That means…
"You knew all along," I say, as I finally begin to understand. "You were never mad, you just couldn't find me, because I was too afraid to let you." He holds me tighter, as if to tell me that I'd finally gotten it.
"Taylor, I've thought this through, I mean really, really thought this through, and I realized that the feeling I get whenever I see you, talk to you, or even think about you, the way my knees shake and my heart jumps, and everything seems to light up, it isn't just a feeling. I don't just like you, Tay." Could this be? Is he really saying what I think he's saying? Does he really… I pinch myself, to make sure it's not just a beautiful dream, a fantasy in my mind fueled by the longing in my heart. The minor, momentary sting on my forearm, followed by no change whatsoever, in anything at all, tells me that it's real, and none of it is just a dream.
"Do you mean…?" I can't even manage to get the words out. My heart is pounding with anticipation.
"Taylor, I love you. I love you," he finally says. I think about something I've heard before, that those three words, I love you, are the best thing you can ever hear. I know it's true now. The best thing you could ever hear is someone you love saying those three words to you. My heart is whole now, and I'm desperately trying to comprehend what I've just heard. I know I'm not dreaming, but could this really be true? Could someone possibly find it in their heart to love me? I can tell he's being sincere, and he really means it.
The words come straight from my heart as I say "I love you too, Justin." I can see that he's almost as shocked as I am, but still, there's a joy in his eyes and the beginnings of a smile are evident on his face.
"Yes, really." I turn around, facing him now, he puts his hands on my waist as I rest my wrists on his shoulders, hands clasped behind his neck. We start to lean in towards each other and I slowly tilt my head to the right, gradually closing my eyes along the way. His lips press against mine. The world seems to have stopped spinning and all I can think about is how I've been dreaming of this moment all my life, and it's almost a perfect replica of my dreams, except it's infinitely better. I know this is something I'll remember for the rest of my life. We slowly pull apart, and the kiss, which seemed like it lasted for an eternity, was over in a matter of seconds. He looks at me and smiles, and I smile back, then we embrace. I try to keep my eyes closed, but can't help looking out at the ocean, longing for only one thing: to spend eternity right here, in his arms, gazing out at the wonders before me. I've found my true love, and he's found me. Nothing could ever separate us.
I'm lost in the moment when he whispers : "Do you still want to do it?" I pull away and give him a questioning look.
"Do what?" I ask, completely unaware of what's going on. Instead of answering, he takes my hand and walks towards the edge. I remember everything now. "Yes," I say, but he doesn't hear me over the roaring waters below.
"1…2…" Fear, suspense, relief, and excitement all control me at the same time. We look at each other.
"3!" We both yell together, and we jump. I'm flying through the air, not knowing what's going to happen, making sure not to let go. Air is rushing past my face, I breath in quickly and hit the water. The cold pierces me like a thousand icicles as I go further down. I don't dare open my eyes. Our hands slip apart, and what I'd most dreaded was happening. He's floating up and I'm still sinking. Panic envelops me as I struggle to get back up, but something's holding me back. I feel something on my ankle and open my eyes. The salt water stings, but I see my ankle tangled in a net in such a way that it's impossible to get free. I realize that I have only minutes left to live, and I close my eyes and relax, certain that it will be over soon. All I can tell is that water surrounds me, when I feel a hand, his hand grab hold of mine. He's come back down to get me. He really does love me. I feel him frantically pulling at the chains that are keeping me down, and, with one last strong pull, the net is torn and I'm free. I have no breath left in me as he pulls me up towards the surface. I open my eyes again, the stinging subsides, and I see a light above me. The sun. It's getting closer and closer. I just have to hold on for a few more seconds. He makes it to the top first, pulling me behind him. Finally, I break through the surface and gasp for air. He swims toward the shore and I hold on to him. His strength amazes me as he helps me back to land. "Are you all right?" he says while I lay down on the rough sand. "You… you saved my life… thank you." I didn't know what else to say. I feel the suns warmth as it reaches its highest point in the sky, shining down from directly above me. I take deep breaths as I hear his reply. "It's the least I could do for the one I love."