The Heartbeat Hypothesis
by Lindsey Frydman
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Audra Madison simply wanted to walk in the shoes of Emily Cavanaugh, a free-spirited teenager who died too young. After all, Audra wasn’t supposed to be here.
Thanks to Emily, Audra has a second chance at life. She’s doing all the things that seemed impossible just two years ago: Go to college. Date. Stargaze in the Rocky Mountains. Maybe get a tattoo. You know, live.
Jake Cavanaugh, a photographer with mysterious, brooding gray eyes, agrees to help chronicle her newfound experiences. She makes him laugh, one of the only people who can these days. As they delve into each other’s pasts – and secrets – the closer they become.
But she’s guarded and feels like she can’t trust anyone, including herself.
And he’s struggling with the fact that his beloved sister’s heart beats inside her.
I pulled out my phone and set it on the table. Sixty daunting seconds later, I’d found Emily’s page and twisted the display so he could see.
Jake tapped on the phone, scrolling for only a moment before removing his finger and looking at me. “Why would you think these are mine?”
“Most of them share the same hashtag: my favorite photographer Jake. That’s you. Right?”
He returned his attention to the phone, this time picking it up, interest lighting his face. “Oh. Yeah, I took these. There’s so many damn hashtags, I didn’t even see my name.”
“Well, her whole page, it’s a done-it list.”
His gaze lifted, along with the corners of his lips. “A what?”
“According to her, she never understood why people made lists of the things they were going to do, so she made a page dedicated to all the things she did do.”
“Sounds like Emily.”
Now that is a smile. “Well, it’s inspired me to start my own done-it list, but I want to start by recreating her list.”
Jake set the phone down and slid it across the table. “Recreate it?”
“Yes. Like this one…” I scrolled until I found the photograph. “She threw glow sticks in a pool and went swimming.” I assumed he remembered, since he’d been behind the camera. “I’m going to do that, then put it on my own done-it Tumblr list. Emily only had sixteen done-its, so I plan on redoing all of them.”
After taking a slow sip of coffee, he leaned forward like he was going to share a secret. “Can I make a suggestion?”
I winced, instilled with a burning desire to flee from the coffee shop. There I was, alive and well—with a perfectly functioning heart—and Emily lay six-feet under, dead and gone. Jake probably thought—
“You should name it something else,” he said. “Done-its sounds like Cheez-its, and that’s a little weird, don’t you think? Don’t get me wrong, kudos to my sister for the idea, but uh, she could’ve been more original with the name.” His smile grew, crooked and adorable.
Relief washed over me, and I smiled too. “I agree done-it is unoriginal, but I can’t think of anything better that isn’t also weirder. Can you?”
With a considerate expression, Jake leaned back in the booth, and while he thought, I took a sip of my coffee and cream mixture.
“See. Not as easy as it sounds.” I laughed, warming my fingers around the mug.
Jake chuckled, shaking his head. “Guess I’ll have to get back to you on that one. But where do I come into this?”
I let go of the ceramic and splayed my hands across the tabletop. “I want you to photograph my…poorly named list.”
Me: How come it took you three weeks to reply to my first message?
I gnawed at my lower lip for a few long, anxious minutes until he typed something back.
Jake: I didn’t want to meet you.
Jake: I think if you were me, you’d understand not wanting to meet the person who got your seventeen-year-old sister’s heart after she died. Right?
Double ouch. I was an ass.
Me: Right. So why accept? Why agree to meet me? To do this.
Jake: I saw your name, saw your face, and changed my mind.
Me: You changed your mind because of my face?
Jake: I didn’t say that. Don’t let anything go to your head.
My cheeks burned, and I was thankful he couldn’t see it.
Me: So you changed your mind? Just like that?
Jake: Just. Like. That.
My pulse thrummed much too fast as I attempted to dissect his answer, but got nowhere. And pressing him to explain likely wouldn’t get me far either.
Me: Thanks again for doing this. And for sitting through my entire tattoo session.
Jake: No problem. I like tattoos. But I’ll admit, watching someone else get one is more fun than getting one yourself.
Me: Because someone else’s pain is enjoyable for you?
Okay, probably not the best thing to say, but I hit enter before thinking better of it. And the longer it took for him to reply, the more I worried I’d said the wrong thing.
Jake: It was actually a first for me, the whole watching someone else get tattooed. I wish Emily had asked me to tag along when she got hers.
I heaved out a sigh, but before I had time to type a single word, he sent another message.
Jake: But being there with you almost felt like being there with her. It was…nice. Comforting in a way, I guess. You know?
An ache filled my chest, because I did know. I touched a hand to my chest, felt the rough scar through my shirt, felt my heart lub-dub below my palm.
Me: I’m really glad you came with me.
“Audra…I’m really sorry.”
My mind was stuck on the way my name sounded coming from him in that low, rough voice. I wrapped my arms together, running my hands down them to chase away the line of goosebumps. “It’s fine. I understand.”
His jaw twitched. Fingers flexed and unflexed. “I’ve still got more pictures to take,” he said, taking a step back. “If you still want a piano lesson, I’ll be in the rec center at seven on Monday, okay? Meet me there.”
I nodded, offering him the best smile I could manage. But as he turned to go, I whispered, “I’m the one who’s sorry.”
He flashed me a questioning look. “Sorry for what?”
I lowered my arms and pressed my palms together. “About Emily.” I’m sorry she’s dead and I’m not, and that you want her to be standing here and not me. I’m sorry if this isn’t what she would’ve wanted—me living the life she couldn’t have.
I’d never seen anyone stand so still and straight-faced for so long. The only movement was his chest rising and falling with increasing pace.
When he spoke, agony laced every word. “There’s nothing for you to be sorry about.”
My whole body trembled, a thousand tiny needles pricked at my skin, and I couldn’t keep my voice from wavering. “I think…I feel like—”
“No.” He shook his head, inching toward me again. “I don’t want your pity. I don’t want you apologizing.”
Peering across the street at a cluster of trees, I swallowed. The coils in my chest tightened like a winding rubber band until I thought I might snap in two.
Jake said my name again, lower this time, and when I looked at him, he was only inches away. “I have a lot of shit going on. None of it has anything to do with you.” Two fingers brushed the edge of my cheek, and he gave me a half-hearted smile. “You just don’t know me that well.”
My skin burned beneath his light caress. “That’s the whole point,” I whispered, still shaking. “I don’t know anything about you. But I want to.”
“I’m not an easy guy to understand.” His fingers drifted down my neck, and he took another deep inhale before he pulled his hand away.
I’m beginning to see that. I ran my own hand over the spot where he’d touched me, then rubbed the back of my neck. “Most people aren’t.”
“I know.” His eyes grew unfocused as he lifted the camera up. “I’ve got to get back to work. See you Monday?”
I nodded and he stepped past me, heading for the back of the house, his shoes crunching over the dry grass.
Flattening my palms against my sides, I looked at the porch steps, wishing I didn’t have to go back inside, through the crush of people. Wishing Jake wasn’t leaving me.
“Hey,” he called from yards away, his figure merely a shadow beneath the trees. “I want to know you too.”
About the Author
Lindsey has been writing since she was nine years old, when she discovered the awesomeness that is Harriet the Spy. Her books always include a romance, though sometimes there’s an added sci-fi or magical realism twist. She lives in Columbus, Ohio (where the weather is never quite right). Her BFA in Photography and Graphic Design has granted her a wide assortment of creative knowledge that serves as inspiration (and not much else). When she’s not crafting YA and NA stories, you’ll likely find her spending waaay too much time on Pinterest, playing a video game, singing show-tunes, or performing in a burlesque show—because she enjoys giving her introversion a worthy adversary. (Plus, it’s the closest to Broadway she’ll ever get.) Lindsey was a proud 2016 Pitch Wars Mentee and thoroughly adores being a part of the wonderful writing community. THE HEARTBEAT HYPOTHESIS is her debut novel.
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