A Paul Serene Playlist
1. FML- K.Flay
Disjointed images twist together to form Paul's fractured view of his office, reality jumping and breaking like so many shards of glass scattered on the floor. Their linear rays cut glimmering lines in the cornres of his vision, and with them comes splitting pricks of pain, like needles being driven behind his eyes. He rubs at his forehead harshly, so much so that when he draws his palm away, he's left a red mark. The sensations stop, although briefly. The momentary clarity feels like ice slipping down from his head to the pit of his stomach. The coolness drifts away, and the burning returns. He gulps.
This is who he is now. This is who he became. His reflection stares back at him from the glass-top desk he's seated at, slumped forward in a slouch in his expensive office chair. He reaches out and rubs at a smudge with his thumb, making the image more visible. He then traces a scratch mark, unable to remember how it got there in the first place. Maybe he broke a glass. Maybe it happened when he rearranged his furniture. Maybe he did it in a moment of weakness, when the illness got to be too much. Maybe it happened back in October, when his building was infiltrated. The possibilities float through his mind as if they were being carried by a current. Long before they've turned the bend, he's already moved on.
He sees a middle-aged face, creased with worry-lines and salt-and-pepper hair. In his light eyes there is exhaustion, pain, and a steady determination to see his plans through, the same look that's been there since 1999...the second time he experienced it, anyway. His body is lean, and not from lack of muscle, but for the sake of it. Instead of bulk, he's developed the frame of a distance runner, compact and durable. It's a far cry from what would have greeted him before the incident began. A far cry from what he's ever been before.
Once, he was a sickly, frail child who got beaten up so badly in third grade that he ended up in the emergency room with a broken jaw. He doesn't remember what started the conflict, only that he was pushed from playground equipment and attacked with kicks, blows, and laughs, tears streaming down his face, blood pouring from his nose. That's when Jack stepped in to protect him, taking more than a few hits himself. He barely knew the other boy yet, but Jack visited him in the hospital and brought him a balloon. His own mother doted, but coldly so. It was the brightest thing to be in his life that entire year, a simple balloon. The brightest thing other than Jack himself.
Once, he was a thin, nervous teenager, a bundle of nerves wrapped up and coiled like tense wire around a spool. Advanced classes, extracurriculars, competitions, tutoring...He went to sleep at night anxious about the days to come, about homework he feared he'd forgotten, about how his father would react to the B he'd received on the geometry test he had gotten back that morning but had not shown his parents yet. He'd say later that he forgot. They'd be mad, but it gave him more time to think it over and not be reduced to tears in front of them for his failings. At least, that's what he told himself as he counted the remnants of the glow-in-the-dark stars still on his ceiling. His parents didn't like him spending so much time with "that underachiever," but Jack was the one person Paul felt truly at home with. Jack took to riding the wrong schoolbus, riding home with Paul instead and walking nearly two miles to his own home, just so they'd have more time to talk. Paul always felt less anxious around Jack. He even felt like things might be okay. Sometimes, he even snuck out late at Jack's encouragement when he couldn't sleep, and the two would prowl the city, dreaming big dreams. Jack liked to steal small things, inconsequential ones he said nobody would miss. One night, they saw a man jump to his death from a fairly tall downtown building. They ran home breathless, scared, and feeling very, very mortal. Paul's grip on Jack's hand lasted longer then than it ever had before as they made each other promises to never mention it to anyone.
Once, he was a tightly-wound, overachieving high schooler, frantic over AP tests, university admissions, and maintaining his top class ranking to prevent the wrath of his parents and what would surely be the end of his life as he knew it, should he slip one spot. With few friends and fewer prosepcts for fun, Paul fought off illness after illness as he nearly succumbed to the stress of the regimen forced on him. But forced by who? In the end, he's the one that made the choice to try and be the perfect child. He's the one that couldn't bear to disappoint his parents. Jack worked two part-time jobs after his parents died, trying to help support himself and his older brother Will, a legal adult with custody of Jack so they could stay together. Paul felt guilty, but his parents wouldn't help more. He spent as much time with Jack as he could, even as the other fell into small crimes and trouble. During football season, they'd attend the high school's games together as often as Paul's schedule allowed. One night, when they were there late, everything changed. He blurted out three words, and he felt shame flood through him, like he had just laid bare his most toxic secret.
"I love you."
He thought he'd ruined everything. Instead, he was met with a kiss. Suddenly, everything was better.
Then he was a college freshmen, a proud Business major, studying hard and spending his evenings getting into trouble with Jack just like always. Jack tried one semester, but dropped out to pursue a full-time job instead. That is, until he landed in jail for grand theft auto. Getting him out was hell, but Paul managed to find the money by digging into his inheritance from a dead relative. These were the years of emo rock music and late-night strolls through Riverport, fingers stealthily entwined. These were the years of stolen kisses and breathless laughs, when everything felt like it would be okay. He graduated, and he went on to business school. And Jack? Well, Jack just couldn't stay out of trouble. In a last-ditch effort to keep him from ending up in prison, Paul poured the rest of his inheritance in helping his best friend in the entire world move abroad, thinking he'd never get to see him again.
How did it fall apart? How did the thin, work-driven young man become what he sees now? How did he manage to lose the only person he'd ever be capable of loving like this? Irreconcilable differences, resulting in six bullets in his chest, sealed the situation. And that fact hurts far more than the wounds ever did.
Does it really matter? Paul Serene is a man missing half of himself. It is not something he can ever replace. For all his money, all his power...he can't win back the only person that ever mattered.