The way Maxwell went up the stairs was the way he went down. One at a time, almost tiptoeing to not make any sounds, to not wake anyone. The day I met him was the day that the sun never rose too far above the clouds. Half hidden behind their fluffiness; it didn’t stop me from smelling the decay around him. He had been licking his lips far too long. The skin above his upper lip was chapped enough to flake off when he touched it with his finger. I did not find comfort in his words as I had in the past. He had changed, somehow.
Maxwell had many traits in people I admired, compared myself to, and forever came short of their marks. The line between them and me was thick. The inches became feet and the differences between us became too much. It was me versus the rest of them: the gifted, the smart, the ones who deserved the best. I was inferior in everything I had been given, from my blood to my bones to my teeth to my nails to my skin. I would never belong to the best of the best. I was the worst of the worst, and soon every waking minute we spent together, he reminded me of my shortcomings. This was until I met his friend, Christian Paul, the guy with good looks and great voice.
I cried that night alone in my room after Christian Paul left. He went by the name Pauly as in Pauly Shore except he didn’t have curly hair. He made me feel inadequate and ugly. I cried for hours, off and on, in the dark so no one could see me. They heard me. They told me the following week. I had lived alone because I wanted it that way, but now I couldn’t afford to be alone in my worthlessness. I hid a lot of the time from my roommates. I was embarrassed. No one bothered to ask why I was crying. They assumed I didn’t want to be bothered. I was glad because I wouldn’t have known what to say. Making excuses was not a part of my personality even though it had crossed my mind what it would feel like to be loved.
My body felt like a puppet the second time I saw Pauly. It was at a small get together. He made eye contact with me and when imagined his hand invading my spine and a bunch of strings stapled into my hands, I could not move. I had no control over my legs either. I moved them at the request of a stranger, but he wasn’t a stranger. It was Pauly. We had known each other for a while. I swear we had met before in another time and dimension. When his hands moved, I moved my hands too. When his legs moved, mine did too. My body stopped moving when he was still. He stared at me, then went back to talking to Maxwell. I assumed he thought I wasn’t worth the bore.
By the time Maxwell stood next to me, his breath hadn’t changed. It was still grotesque. There was decay, only worse. There might’ve been maggots, but I wasn’t sure. The whole room was darkened somehow. He stretched his hand out, wanting me to take it. I asked how his mother was doing. He told me she was fine. I couldn’t believe I was at this party. There was not turning back in time. His hand was cold, unlike Pauly’s. A thought crossed my mind and made my hairs stand straighter. This was when I knew Pauly was the puppet, I was the doll, and Maxwell was neither.