TANGLED HEARTS • by Frazer Merritt

It happened one night on the shore of Lake Michigan, hot, unexpected, two bodies writhing in the reeds. We had spread Remmy’s football letter jacket over the damp sand and flung our shirts onto a mulberry tree, exposing ourselves to the muggy July midnight, fireflies flashing their secrets above, his hands clenching my breasts. He showed me his true nature that first night — something desperate and carnal — but all I had wanted was a gentle kiss.

Maybe I should start from the beginning. Before we snuck away, I was at the team’s house party, pretending to hold a Leinenkugel’s as though I had been drinking for years. I was only 17. Guys in blue Storms’ jackets littered the hallways and living room, but only Remington Wilson caught my eye. Everyone at Kewaunee High knew him: all-star wide receiver, perfect on his SATs, and handsome for reasons I could never quite understand.

As I watched from the kitchen, I noticed he twitched his fingers during conversation, or avoided eye contact by glancing at the floor, and once he made his blonde admirers laugh, he would slip away into the next room. I would follow. Girls and friends would come to him, they would laugh, and he would leave, always leaving.

Perhaps it was the booze, but I approached him and blurted, “Hi, I’m Emma. You must be Remmy Wilson.”

He grinned as he swept back his dark hair. “My reputation precedes me, I guess.”

“Look, this is going to sound weird, but has anyone ever said you act a little strange?”

Remmy cocked an eyebrow. “I… no. What do you mean?”

“It’s like you’re hiding something. All these hot chicks keep coming to you, but you keep leaving them.”

“Well,” Remmy said, chuckling. “I’m not gay, if that’s what you’re asking.”

I placed my hand on his shoulder. “No, there’s something else, but I can’t figure it out.”

We talked and laughed about everything — small town boredom, Green Bay Packers, Survivor — but still he twitched his fingers, and still I insisted to know, so I grabbed his hand and led him to the water’s edge, where our romance bloomed.

July and August melted into timelessness under the flame of discovery and passion, like all first loves. We did everything together: racing the backroads, bass fishing, sex in my Chevy. School started, our senior year, and although we only shared one class, we shared our afternoons, making out before practices, studying, strolling Selner Beach.

I thought he was flawless, pretty much perfect. Then Christmas came. Remmy arrived at my doorstep, having walked seven miles in a t-shirt from his dairy farm, his fingers like frozen blueberries when my mom let him inside.

He told me his daddy was a drunk, a mean one, who beat the cows. Remmy didn’t like seeing cow’s blood on his fist, so they got into a brawl. But it was other things that scared me: he said demon crows clawed his stomach and only he had the power to burn them. He rambled, screamed, his eyes staring five hundred yards. He wouldn’t stop. He kicked holes through my wall. At the hospital, doctors injected Remmy with Thorazine and told my mom and I that he had schizophrenia.

Two days later — after shrinks, drugs — they let me see him. I stood by the hospital window, my arms crossed to hide my trembling hands. “Remmy, what… happened?”

Remmy shook his head from side to side on his pillow and squeezed his eyelids tight. “I wanted to tell you for so long.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“I thought you wouldn’t like me anymore,” Remmy said. His lips quivered and he added, “I thought you’d be scared.”

“I was scared. And you scared the fuck out of my mom. So, yeah, thanks.”

Remmy opened his eyes and tears rolled down his cheeks. “But, it rarely happens. I stopped my meds because I felt so good with you, Emma.”

I stared at the white-tiled floor. “Sorry, Remington, I can’t do this. It’s too difficult.”

“Wait!” he said as I marched across the room. “You’ve helped me so much.”

“Goodbye, get well,” I mumbled and flung open the door.

For the rest of the school year, we avoided each other in the hallways and my girlfriends texted me his location around town. Everyone asked why we broke up; gay rumours swirled; I didn’t tell.

Somehow we ended up at the same post-Prom house party — actually, I wanted to see him again — and, as usual, girls giggled beside him. But he didn’t leave. In front of everyone, he French kissed Julia Guiles. I hated her — too skinny and too much like me. He looked at me while he sucked her neck.

I rushed out to the backyard and Whatever-His-Name-Was, my boring date, redeemed himself by lighting a joint and opening a bottle of Grey Goose vodka. Friends joined us and we smoked and drank and I hung off Whatever’s side, laughing.

“You guys wanna know why Remington is such a bastard, huh?” I stammered, spilling my vodka. “He’s goddamn schizophrenic, no joke. He had, like, a nervous breakdown.”

I told them everything.

In the remaining two weeks of school, everyone avoided Remmy. Gossip about his creepiness got around. Some said he was a pansy. Remmy shambled through the hallways, mouth clenched shut, eyes gaunt. He stopped eating in the cafeteria and hanging out with friends. No one seemed to care. When asked about the slander, he would reply, “Yeah, it’s true.” Nothing more. He stayed quiet. Friends told me he skipped the championship game, saying he was injured. I felt I had betrayed Remmy — and destroyed everything we had.

After the final school bell rang, he said “goodbye” to some classmates and teachers and trudged to the parking lot. As he roared past in his pickup, I saw suitcases piled in the seats — he was driving off to Stanford, to start a new life. I silently wished him well.

I hope he has forgiven me.

Frazer Merritt is an American studying for a BA in Literature & Mythology at the University of Essex in England. Prior to university, he spent two years in India in search of spiritual experiences with far-flung tribes and holy festivals, wise yogis and sacred sites in nature. He has previously published a travel essay about India, op-eds in newspapers and magazines, and essays in his university’s academic journal.

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