2: Breakdown

-Zoey-

I have two half-sisters, both that are older than me by a day. How it happened was a story Dad didn't remember and one he didn't really want to tell. It happened the night of his bachelor party, that's all he'll confide.

One I'm on okay terms with, but she...kinda creeps me out. Her name's Dawn; she has bluish gray eyes, usually with raccoon shadows under them, and long, pale blond hair. She lives with her single mother Rain in the tiny house across the street from mine. Strange coincidence, right? Most of the time, I see Dawn sitting on her roof, cross legged and meditating. Sometimes, she's talking to squirrels and other times, she goes up to strangers and claims that she can read their "aura."

On the rare occasion that Rain visits my parents, Dawn always finds me-she could give Houdini a run for his money in the disappearance act department. I wouldn't be surprised if she'd found the guy and was keeping his hiding spot secret.

She likes to read my aura whenever she can. And...she actually has some interesting life advice from time to time. She's definitely wise beyond her years, spiritual, kind, and a true humanitarian. I like her, but she never seems to be around long enough to simply sit down and talk to or just get to know.

My other half-sister is Elaine. She has long, honey blond hair and is practically Dawn's, or even my own, polar opposite. Fortunately, her visits are rare and far between, but when she does visit, she's usually using my back porch as a place to smoke pot with her boyfriend of the week or she was brought in tow by her mother Blaineley. By a weird strike of fate, Blaineley also happens to be the vice principal of my high school.

It's really bad when she comes with Blaineley-they can stay over here for weeks at a time. It's usually under the excuse of Blaineley claiming that Dad "owes her." As if the fact that a quarter of his pay check goes to child support for her isn't enough. She uses Elaine to get Dad to buy her things she refuses to buy with her own money. The woman's rich, but she's sadistic. As far as I know, the poor way she treats Dad is some sort of psychological release for her own frustration.

The stranger thing is that Elaine isn't affronted or offended by this. She actually joins in on her mother's games, encourages them. Well, she only plays the role of Blaineley's flunky when she isn't...harassing me, anyway.

"Zoey!" Elaine shrieked, slamming at my closed door. "You have to let me in! We're supposed to be sharing your room, you little bitch!"

Tears were pouring down my face. I was biting down on my lip so hard that I could taste iron. It took everything on my part to keep myself from bursting into outright sobs.

Elaine continued pounding on the door, making the mahogany wood slam into my back.

"Let me in, you tacky little cunt," she cried.

Shuddering, I placed both of my open palms against the door. I could keep the door shut, but then when Elaine finally got in, she'd beat me up. I remember back in my last week of eighth grade I had to walk around school with a black eye. All because I'd said one tiny word against Elaine taking my chap stick. Mom and Dad wouldn't do anything; they were already backed up against the wall by Elaine's evil mother Blaineley, shrieking about Dad's "never-ending" debt to her. This time, she was trying to force Dad into giving her money to bail her younger brother out of jail.

Finally, I crawled away from my bedroom door and I dived under my bed, desperately hoping that Elaine wouldn't find me. Of course, my hopes were dashed as soon as the bedroom door sailed open and Elaine's laser point eyes traveled right towards the bed. Landing on me.

"Get out from there," she hissed.

"You're just gonna beat me up!" I protested.

"I'll give you another black eye if you don't come out from under the bed," she replied, sneering, her lip pulling back to reveal part of her gums.

Shivering like an autumn leaf, I gave in. I climbed out from under the bed and stood up straight, looking her straight in the eyes. She just glared daggers back at me. Then she grabbed me by the collar of my shirt, pulled me towards her until our noses were touching.

"Make sure nobody wakes me up," she instructed. "Or I'll kill you."

I nodded once and I could hear myself whimpering. With a low growl, Elaine threw me aside and I landed, painfully, against the wall. Pain shot through my left side, but I just lay there, looking over warily at Elaine. I watched her every move, as she pulled off her tank top and jeans then collapsed onto my bed.

For close to fifteen minutes, I waited on the floor. Everything felt like a slow, painful eternity. When she started snoring saw blades I tentatively climbed to my feet and left her where she was, wandering down the hall. I stopped at the closet next to the bathroom and pulled out a patchwork quilt. It was obvious that I was going to be sleeping on the couch again tonight...

Heather was leaning against her locker, sighing and upset. There were twin tear streaks on her face and she was shaking like a leaf in the autumn wind.

For some reason, even though I barely knew her, I felt drawn to her. Thinking I could help in some way, I walked up to her. "Hi Heather."

She looked up at me and, instantly, her pupils were filled with familiar twin dagger tips. Warily, I took a step back and wondered if I should just leave her alone. Heather's friends would probably be here at some point. They could help her much better than I possibly could. But just as the thought crossed my mind, she snarled: "What the hell do you want?"

"Is something...wrong?" I asked, feeling my heart fall to my toes as soon as the words left my mouth.

"None of your business," she replied haughtily.

"You look like you've been...crying," I insisted. Some part of me felt like I could get through to her, break through her mask, if I just tried hard enough.

"I said it was none of your business!" she fumed.

"I'm sorry."

"Whatever, loser," she muttered as she turned away.

Idiot me just stood there, watching her walk away down the hall. If only I could have helped her. Maybe I should go find one of her friends...?

I started shuffling down the hallway, staring at my feet. Reality bore down on me like a hammer. The more steps I took, the more my emotions got jumbled up. There was no way I could approach Heather's friends, let alone did I know who they were. Too much weight and unknown probabilities attached. Maybe I could convince Dawn to show me how to telepathically project positive thoughts?

When I opened my eyes, I realized that I'd fallen asleep on the couch in front of the TV. Inadvertently chewing on my lip, I looked up at the ceiling, wondering why those thoughts had been running through my head, why I'd been thinking about Elaine. And Heather.

I knew the two of them had been rivals at some point. At the heat of their rivalry, Elaine had projected a lot of her own frustration onto me, through words, mostly. That was how our already at-odds relationship had turned into a full-on, outright bully and victim relationship. Sometimes I hated Elaine and other times I wondered why she was the way she was.

With a mom like Blaineley, it made sense. But then again, just because her mother was a complete jerk, it didn't mean that Elaine had to behave like that.

Maybe I'd felt some sort of invisible string pulling me towards Heather at the peculiar times that I did because she...kind of reminded me of Elaine. I knew that I couldn't help Elaine, but for some reason, through trying to reach out to Heather and help her, I thought that was the closest I'd ever get to helping my wayward sister. Even though it wasn't really her.

Gritting my teeth, I closed my eyes. Why was I thinking about this right now? In about an hour or so, Mike was going to pick me up and we were going to hang out at his house. Just the two of us.

Most of the time, Cameron was around. Not that I didn't like Cameron, but I'd been dying to have one-on-one time with Mike. If we were finally alone together, he might actually make the move that I was hoping he would. We've known each other for close to an entire month now and I know that he's been trying to ask me out, but every time he gets close, he usually chickens out or Cameron and one of his other friends butts in.

It's about time I got Mike to myself...I don't want to be selfish, but I can't really help it. I've never wanted something to happen this badly. Just the prospect of going out on a date with him is making my mouth water, making me sweat, making my heart beat just a little bit faster.

Nobody's ever really had a crush on me. Let alone asked me out. Of course, I've had my fair share of crushes, but that usually took a back seat to my self-esteem issues and longing for friends. Now that I finally have friends, namely Cameron, the AV club nerds, and more, I find myself gravitating towards Mike easily. Being more than friends with him...actually seems tangible, achievable. Realistic.

And that's what makes things that much more thrilling and enticing.

This is nowhere near like what happened briefly with Alejandro. I knew I should be more hesitant, more wary, but at the same time, I didn't really need to be with Mike. He was Alejandro's opposite and thankfully so. That was probably what was filling me up with such high expectations, such longing and pining. I could practically-

Suddenly, the door bell rang and I sat up, grinning widely and like a complete idiot. I'd been hit by a metaphorical lightning bolt.

Mike and I sat back to back on Mike's front porch. He hadn't really said much the entire time we'd been listening to my Oldies records. I was getting worried that he didn't like my taste in music very much. Well, we didn't have to like the same genres of music, but it wouldn't kill him to tell me that!

"Mike?" I turned around and lightly shook his shoulder.

He snorted and that's when I realized...he'd fallen asleep. I was about to get angry, but then I realized we were listening to "Daydream Believer" by the Monkees. That mellow tune had definitely helped me conk out more than once!

As soon as I saw his face, I didn't really want to wake him up. Awake, he was absolutely, mind-numbingly adorable, but asleep-I was trying not to squeak like a fan girl when his head fell in my lap. Part of me was kind of tempted to start running my fingers through his spiky hair, but I knew better. Neither one of us had made a move yet and I wasn't really sure how he'd react when I told him. It was already bad enough that I was succumbing to keeping his head in my lap as he dozed.

Having him so close was making my mind burble and my lungs start leaking air...

Mike, as a whole, is really nice, caring, quirky, loyal, and confident. He's actually kind of shy, but it's hard to tell, or even know that, unless you know him on a personal level. It feels like he's kind of insecure about something. I can totally relate. Maybe that's why I'm so drawn to him?

Yet, despite that, he's able to talk to just about anybody and everybody. He's friendly, personable; he even has a few friends in the popular crowd. Also, he completely stands out and away from the crowd, in his very own niche. I admire him for it-a lot. No matter what happens to him, he stays true to himself and his own interests. I've never met anybody quite like him before and I can't help wishing that I was kind of like him.

He's tried several different times to help me break out of my shell and I've been trying, but it seems like I always say the wrong thing or am just too scared to stumble and bumble. Despite my own drawbacks, Mike's been really helpful and supportive, but I just don't know if I'll be able to live up to his-or even my own-expectations.

I can't help wondering why he has a crush on me. Theoretically, he could have any girl he wanted, even though he insists that he's never been very popular with the ladies...

Lightly touching his cheek, I furrow my eyebrows and wonder what he's dreaming about. If I had mysterious abilities like those of Dawn, I'd be able to read his mind and see.

"...Zoey..." he murmured suddenly in his sleep.

My cheeks turned red right away and I could feel my heart speed up a little. Was he dreaming about...me?

Fifteen minutes passed by, my brain going to places I really didn't want it to go. Caught between reality and dreamland, I was startled when Mike's eyes flew open. He stared up at me with a deer-in-the-headlights expression. "What are you doing up there?" he asked.

As soon as he further examined his current state, his face turned bright red. Then he shot up, ram-rod straight and turned away, chuckling nervously to himself.

"I...really didn't mean to do that!" he cried.

"It's fine," I said, reaching out and touching his shoulder.

"N...no!" He shook his head vehemently. "I'm sorry that happened!"

"Mike, I really don't mind-" I tried to protest, but he cut me off with a strained noise.

Then he started twitching sporadically, eye hopping and fingers flexing. I ran towards the door, intending to call for help. "Are you prone to seizures?" I asked, hoping this weird fit of his wasn't a result of epilepsy.

"Call Cameron!" Mike squawked.

I didn't ask any questions; Mike's spasms had started getting worse.

Immediately, I flung open the front door, grabbed the closest phone I could find, and punched in Cameron's number. Barely one ring before Cameron answered: "Hello?"

"Hey, Cam, Mike's twitching and stuff! What do I do?" The words flew out of my mouth.

"I'll be over as soon as I can!" Cameron replied breathlessly. "Do you have any candy?"

"Are you bringing Cody with you?" Why was that the first thing I asked?

"Do you have any candy?" Cameron repeated again, more urgently this time.

"Yeah, I have some gum, I guess," I replied, so tempted to start asking Cam why he and Mike were acting so weird. Well, weirder than what I considered normal for them...

"Try to get Mike to eat it," Cameron said.

Before I could ask why, Cameron hung up. Frustrated, I went back outside, dragging the phone with me. Man, I was wasting time! The first place I should've called was the hospital for Pete's sake, not Cam. Cam's smart and all, but he's not exactly a professional, licensed doctor or nurse.

When I got back outside, Mike had stopped twitching. He was standing, hands on his hips, as he surveyed the yard. For some reason, he'd ripped off his shirt and his hair looked like it'd been slicked back. Something seemed a bit...off about him; enough that I just stood there and stared for close to thirty seconds.

But knowing it wasn't as terrible as what I thought it'd be, I just decided to throw away the red flags. Relief blossoming in my chest, I ran over to Mike and wrapped my arms around his chest, pulling him into a big bear hug.

"Oh, Mike! I'm so glad you're okay!" I blurted.

"Ugh, get offa me!" he complained, wrenching me off of him.

"...what?" I blinked, confused again.

He turned around and faced me, wearing an uncharacteristically aggressive expression. Then he looked me up and down, scrutinizing me like a piece of steak. This continued for way too long, making me feel really nervous. By the time he was actually looking at my face again, I wanted to run away. But I couldn't.

To my surprise, he crooked a finger under my chin and tilted my face towards his. "You're not exactly a ten, but I wouldn't mind getting some action right now," he said, slippery as an eel.

"What?" My cheeks were blazing.

"You. Me. Lips locked. Dancing tongues," he said, smirking. "Enough of a visual for you yet, baby?"

I only squeaked in response.

"Speak English, Raggedy Ann!" he barked.

His tone sent shivers down my spine. I backed away from him, raising my hands and furrowing my brows. Why was he acting like this? I'd been hoping he'd make a move, but not like this! He was being so rude, so mean...

"What's wrong with you, Mike?" I asked, voice quavering slightly. Flashbacks of Elaine were zipping through my mind's eye, just amping up how nervous I felt.

"Um...I'm not Mike," he replied, raising an eyebrow. "I'm Vito and you're wasting time I could be spending with an actual hot chick."

That...Those words...My heart was sinking to my feet. He didn't really...find me attractive? He was outright glaring at me now, making me shift between fear and being upset.

"You...don't think I'm pretty?" I asked, the words coming out unexpectedly.

"Hell, no!" he spewed. "You're a pasty toothpick. You need a trip to the tanning salon, you freaking cake!"

Did he just...use a racial slur against me?

Tears were puckering at the back of my eyes. I was about to fall to my knees and cry. The sadistic smirk on Mike's face was enough to indicate that he knew what was about to happen and he was perfectly okay with that. He'd even enjoy it.

Something snapped in me. More flashbacks of Elaine rattled through my mind. When I closed my eyes, I actually saw Elaine's grinning face after one of her own catty and offensive comments. Her glare after launching her clenched fist towards me, and just barely stopping it before it reached my face. My reaction rippled through me like heat lightning. Fury was pouring through my veins, clouding out everything out. I stomped up to Mike, my own fists clenching and glared at him.

"If this is the real you, then I want nothing to do with you!" I screamed. "You're a jerk!"

"And you're an ugly, pasty, stupid bitch," he replied, smiling smugly.

My cheeks and anger flared and flickered more strongly, a fire turning into a full blown conflagration. I became a bull seeing red; I was howling and grunting. Mike was still talking, probably saying more stupid and mean stuff. Goading me on, just trying my patience even further.

Words I never imagined myself saying flew out of my mouth. At the end of it all, I remember feeling like I'd floated out of my body for a brief instant. I was floating, looking down on everything from a third person perspective. What looked like my fist flew back, then rocketed straight towards Mike's face and bashed his mouth in. It all happened in a quick, blurry flash. Something that could be missed because of blinking.

He staggered back, fell on his butt, eyes wide with shock. A small bead of red sat on his lower lip, then started dribbling down his cheek.

Some brief flash of satisfaction seared through me as I returned to my body from wherever I'd just been. Adrenaline pumping, I smiled as Mike reached up and-gingerly-touched his lip with his index finger...

...The smile started to fade when Mike looked up at me. That original anger and smugness had drained from his face. Instead, I saw that innocent, happy face again-but this time, he was confused, close to snapping like a rubber band with what had just happened. Within mere moments, we had swapped our roles.

Oh, God...When I closed my eyes, I saw Elaine's smirking, gleeful face. Were you sending me psychic foreshadowing hints, Dawn?

Then I opened my eyes again, looking out at a deceptively bright and vibrant world. I let the tears fall and collapsed to the grass. Looking up at the cerulean sky, I was quickly washed and lost under the waterfalls tearing out of my eyes.

"I'm sorry, Mike!" I blubbered. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"

I couldn't say it enough. How sure could I be that the word was even sincere?

"It's alright," a soothing, familiar voice told me.

No, no it's not.

Without permission, a pair of lean and slightly muscular arms wrapped around my shuddering frame. I felt like this was unfair, like I had no right to be comforted, yet it was happening anyway. I leaned against Mike, falling into his embrace and soaking up his warmth. Somehow, from the gentle way he held me, I knew that this was the real Mike. Vito wasn't real, but Mike definitely was.

I was still sobbing, blubbering when I looked up at Mike. He wasn't smiling, but his shining eyes showed the shrine of true solace that I was looking for.

"Zoey," he said breathily, brows furrowed. "I have multiple personality disorder. Vito is...one of four personalities that I have."

I looked at him, reached up and touched his cheek. "I never would've guessed," I whispered. "You're so sweet...How could I possibly think that Vito was-?"

"I'm sorry that Vito was the first one you encountered," Mike sighed, shuddering. Without his permission, I pulled him close to me and rested his head against my shoulder. He started blushing, but he didn't back away this time.

"Cam's been trying to help me come up with ways to control it," Mike told me. "And...I was so close! I never thought this would happen around you, but it did. I need more help. I can't-shouldn't be around you right now! Not until I can control it..."

He pulled back from me a little and looked directly into my face, his own face a book full of his own grief and misery. "Zoey, please forgive me. I promise I'll leave you-"

"Don't leave me," I replied, cupping his face in my palms. "Don't."

"But I-"

"I'll help you, too," I cried, bringing his face closer. "You're my friend. You and Cam are the best things that have ever happened to me! Especially you. You're the nicest, sweetest, most sincere guy I've ever met. And I want to see and know more of you. You as Mike. The others, too, if necessary. I'll do whatever it takes...Just let me."

Mike stared at me, eyelids fluttering rapidly. He didn't say anything, just stared at me for a long, intense moment until both of us were blushing furiously. Then he wrapped his arms around me again and buried me against his bare chest, sighing contentedly.