"Where are you taking us?"
"Can we take off the blindfolds yet?"
Mike was leading Holly by the hand, and Zoey was leading Jack. They had a surprise waiting for them.
"Be patient Jack, we're nearly there."
"It's not Christmas, and it's no one's birthday, so I have no idea what this could be. Then again, I'm an old man in my forties, so I guess I could have forgotten a holiday. Wouldn't be the first time."
"No comment," said Holly, grinning.
"Okay, we're here!" Mike announced. He took off Holly's blindfold, and Zoey took off Jack's. They both gasped in surprise.
"Where are we? It looks just like my grandmother's house," said Holly.
"Don't you recognize it, Mom? It's your dream house."
"What are we doing here?"
"I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would do with the million dollars after I won. There were a lot of things I thought of that I'd like to have, but I kept coming back to this. It's such a beautiful house, there aren't many people who deserve one like it, and I can think of no two people more deserving than you."
"Mike, you spent your million dollar prize on us?" said Jack incredulously.
"Sort of. You see, after the island sank, Chris claimed that Fang ate half the money."
"Whether that's true or not has yet to be proven," Zoey piped up. "He probably used the missing money to buy himself a new 'cottage.'"
"But I did get some of it, and Cameron split his million dollars last year and shared it with all of us. I used the money to buy this place. Zoey helped me fix it up and restore it to its former glory before I… before I disappeared."
"I was tempted to tell you about it, but it wouldn't have been right, this is Mike's gift to you and he needed to be here to give it," said Zoey as she put an arm around his waist. "We make a great team."
"It's our gift to you. I didn't even earn the million, I wasn't in control for most of the game, so it only makes sense to spend it on someone else. I know you had to sacrifice so much for me, including this house, and I so wanted to give something back."
"Mike, you didn't have to do that," said Holly. "We did it because we love you, not because we expected anything in return."
"That's exactly why I did it. You took care of me and made me into the person I am today. You took what could have been a hopeless case and gave me a chance to make something of myself. If it weren't for you, I never could have met and fallen in love with my dream girl. If it weren't for you, I might not even be here at all. This house is the least I can do."
"We can't accept this, it's too much," said Jack.
"Your name is already on the deed," said Mike. "Too late for tradebacks."
"Here's the key," said Zoey as she tossed it to Jack. "A lot of memories are going to be made in this house."
"No Mike, it should be yours," said Holly. "You're going to have kids of your own someday, they should grow up in a house like this."
"There's only one place I want to stay, and that's your old house. It might not be the biggest or the nicest, but it's where my new life began. I can't imagine being anywhere else."
"Are you sure about that?" asked Jack. "It sounds like you're getting ripped off big time."
"It's all I want."
"If we take this house, you'll keep our old one, okay?" said Jack.
"Jack, stop it, we can't! It would be wrong of us to accept."
"Mom," said Mike as he came over and took her hands in his and looked at her with a smile. "You've given me so much, now it's time to take a little for yourself. As happy as you'll be in this house, I'll be even happier knowing that I gave my parents something they always wanted. If you say no, you'll be denying me that happiness."
Holly threw her arms around his neck and her eyes glistened with tears. "Thank you, thank you, thank you so much. My sweet little boy has grown into a man. When I look at you, I still see that little boy we took in all those years ago, but you've grown so much, come so far. You've gone above and beyond everyone's expectations, and you're not done yet. I wish I could always hold onto you like this and never let you go."
"I know. I love you too."
Jack and Zoey joined in on the hug, and then Holly took Jack's hand and said, "Let's go look inside!"
Mike and Zoey let them explore their new house by themselves and they walked back to his old one.
"We've made them so happy," said Zoey, smiling. "All that hard work was worth it to see their faces. Are you going to stay in the old house or stay with them in the new one?"
"For now, I'll stay with them in the new one, I don't want to live in an empty house. You know, not all the money went into buying that house. I had some left over."
"What are you going to do with it?"
"Well, a few things came to mind, like a boat or a hot tub. But in the end, there was only one thing I wanted. I've got it here with me, and I need to see what you think of it."
His heart pounding, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small velvet box. He opened it, and Zoey gasped in surprise. It was a diamond ring.
"It was really hard to keep this a secret, not even my parents know yet." His hands were shaking as he held the box, he was so nervous but he was trying to hide it. "The only person who knows is Cam, he helped me pick out the ring. And Manitoba assured me that it's a hundred percent genuine."
Zoey could hardly breathe as Mike got down on one knee.
"Zoey, before I met you, I wasn't sure girls like you existed, you're straight out of a fairytale. You've helped me when I'm sick or not myself… you saved my life from that operation, if it weren't for you I wouldn't even be here now. I know I'm a lot of work, and the thought of marrying someone like me must be very daunting. I just… you've always been there for me, you refuse to ever give up on me. You always know how to make me smile on days when I feel like I'll never be happy or cheerful again. You've always stayed with me in good times and bad, and I think things are only going to get better for us."
A tear rolled down his cheek and he said, "I promised myself I wasn't going to cry. I want to make you happy, too. I want to wake up every morning by your side, I want to spend every day talking to you and thinking of new ways to make you laugh, and I want to close out each day holding your hand. I know it probably sounds corny, but well… you have a way of making my brain go haywire and I can't seem to think straight. I just love you so much, I don't want to go through life without you. Will you marry me?"
He had managed to sound confident through that, but now his nerves were shot and he was worried about what she was thinking, because she hadn't said a word. Was she happy? Upset? Maybe the ring was tacky, maybe he should have done this on another day. Was this romantic enough? He should have thought of something more romantic. If she said no, he could handle it, right? But what if this ruined everything for them? Maybe he should have left well enough alone. If she said yes, would she agree out of love or obligation? He didn't want her to agree only because she felt bad for saying no.
"But don't feel like you have to say yes, I want you to do what you what makes you happy," he said quickly, voicing his doubts. "Is the ring okay? We can exchange it, if you want. Is this okay? I can do the proposal again and make it more romantic. And if you do say no, I'm okay with staying just friends, I'm okay with anything as long as I'm with you. I'm babbling, I'm so sorry, I-"
Zoey put a finger to his lips to quiet him. Tears welled up in her eyes and she wiped them away. "Yes."
"Yes?" he said in disbelief.
She got down on her knees with him. "It would be an honor and a privilege to be your wife," she whispered.
He let out a sigh of relief. "Can I put the ring on your finger?"
She nodded and held out her hand. He tried to take the ring out of the box, but his hands were shaking so badly he dropped it. He picked it up and managed to get it on her finger on the third try. He kissed the ring, and she smiled in excitement.
"Cam let me practice on him because I was freaking out so much, I was a mess," Mike giggled, from nerves and shock and excitement. "I was so worried I'd screw everything up. You know you've got a best friend when he'll let you propose to him five times."
"Looks like that empty house of yours isn't going to stay empty long," said Zoey as they stood back up. She stole a kiss and started humming the song Mike wrote for her. They started walking again down the street as Zoey admired her ring, reflecting the glow of the sun.
Zoey was sitting on a fold-up chair along with dozens of other students. They were outside, the sky was cloudy but it didn't look like it was going to rain. She was very nervous, she was twisting her engagement ring on her finger without even realizing she was doing it.
Today was the day of her graduation. She'd worked hard for four years, and today was the day it would all pay off. She was chosen as valedictorian, even though she knew for a fact that there were other graduates in her class that were smarter and more deserving. She had prepared a speech and she'd practiced it before Gwen, but she was still a big ball of nerves.
She was called up to the stage. She was given her diploma, and then she turned to face the crowd to deliver her speech. She cleared her throat and took a moment to brace herself and to scan the crowd for familiar faces. She saw her parents, she saw Gwen, Trent, their son, and Cameron, and she saw Mike's parents, but not Mike. She wasn't worried, but graduation wasn't something she wanted to go through without him. But she couldn't wait, so she began her speech.
"Today is a day to be thankful and to be inspired," she said with a smile. "We have much to be thankful for. We have received a great education thanks to our fine administration and teachers. We are prepared to move on and to take on whatever challenges come next in our lives.
"Fellow graduates, the education we received here is a great gift. We have had a high degree of academic excellence and whether you intend to continue your education or not, we will all benefit from what we learned here.
"My college experience wasn't always a happy one. For a while there I thought I'd lost someone very near and dear to me. It's the only reason why I'm the one up here giving this speech, I wasn't the smartest or most gifted, I poured everything in my schoolwork just to cope." She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Mike run in and take the empty seat by his parents. He looked flustered, she wondered which alter had been out. But despite being flustered, he looked handsome in his suit, as always. He looked up at her and gave an apologetic smile. He mouthed the words, Sorry, I'm here now. He held up a camera and snapped a picture of her in at the podium.
Her smile grew wider and she said, "But he's back now, even with everything against him he came home. That leads me to the next part of my speech, we also have our loved ones to be thankful for. Our friends and family are the ones who give us strength to keep going, even when we can't see the end of the tunnel. Without all the wonderful people in my corner inspiring, encouraging, and supporting me, I wouldn't be here today.
"When you leave here today, celebrate what you have accomplished, but always strive to be the inspiration and the support for others around you. Thank you."
She received an applause, and after the ceremony finished her parents found and hugged her. Mike's parents congratulated her, as well.
"Congratulations, Zoey!" said Cameron as he hugged her tightly.
Gwen hugged her too, and said, "Good speech, you did great up there. Let me see the ring."
Zoey showed her her engagement ring. "Nice. Not really my taste, but very pretty. Trent got me a black engagement ring."
"And an onyx wedding ring instead of a diamond, he knows you too well," said Zoey, smiling. "You're coming to the wedding, right?"
"I've never liked weddings, but I wouldn't miss yours for the world."
Trent hugged Zoey as well, he hugged her with one arm and in the other held their son Tom. "Congrats, Zoey. "You know, Tom will be starting kindergarten soon, I can't think of a better teacher."
"I'm still working on finding a school, but I'd love to teach him."
"Paparazzi!" said Mike, and they all posed and let him take a picture of them all together. They then dispersed to let Mike and Zoey talk.
Mike snapped more pictures of Zoey in her navy graduation gown. "This is front page news right here."
Zoey smiled and posed for him, and then she took the camera and took a picture of the two of them together.
"I'm so proud of you Zoey, you fulfilled your dream!" he said happily.
"This is all going by so fast, it feels like just yesterday I took my first steps on campus, and now here I am, a diploma in my hand. Pretty soon I'm going to have my very own classroom, it's almost overwhelming, I might faint."
"If you do, I'll catch you."
"Will you really?" she started leaning over backwards. "Oh no, I'm going to faint. If only there was a brave, strong man around to catch me!"
He scooped her up in his arms. "You made a big mistake, Zoey. Now that I've got you in my arms, I don't think I can put you back down."
"It's just as well, you need the practice for when you carry me over the threshold after the wedding."
There was some real paparazzi around and they got pictures of Zoey and a few of her with Mike. She told them how good it felt to graduate, but didn't say much more than that. When things started calming down, she and Mike left. She changed into a spare set of clothes; Mike had insisted she pack nice ones but he didn't say why. She found out why when he took her to an expensive restaurant.
"Mike, this place is too expensive."
"You don't graduate every day, and I can afford it, I promise."
They ate dinner and then went dancing. The music that night was slow and romantic, just what they wanted. It was the first time in three years that Zoey got to dance with him, and she so kept him out there on the dance floor, long after everyone left and the music stopped. She kept her arms around him and her head on his shoulder, and he buried his face in her sweet smelling hair. They danced to the music in their own heads, and didn't leave until they absolutely had to. But then they moved to the parking lot and kept dancing slowly. Even after their legs got tired, neither one wanted to break off the embrace. If they could, they would have stayed like that forever.
"Zoey, do you remember that time capsule we buried when we were teenagers?" asked Mike one night while they were talking on the phone before bed.
"Oh, I'd forgotten all about that!"
"It's been six years, do you think it's been long enough?"
"I think it's been plenty long enough. I'm free tomorrow, I'll come over and we can dig it up."
"I can't wait."
The next morning, Zoey came over early, and they got right to work digging up the capsule. They washed off the dirt with the water hose and then brought it inside. They took it to the kitchen table. Slowly, Mike opened it. Everything they had put inside it was still perfectly intact.
Mike took out the photos first. "We haven't changed very much, but we did change a little. My hair's a little shorter now, and yours is just a little bit longer. You're still just has beautiful as ever, though."
Zoey took out Mike's love notes. She read the first one aloud. "My dearest Zoey, I'm not very good putting my thoughts on paper, but I'll do my best here. I told someone once that you're the North Star in my cloudy night sky, and it'll still be true when we dig up this capsule, whether it be in five years or fifty. And though there will be times when we're apart…" At this part, Zoey teared up and had to take a minute before she could continue. "I hope we can always be together. You're all I think about, you're all I've ever wanted and I want to spend every day loving you even more than the last."
Zoey admired Mike's drawings while he took out the letter he had written to himself. He didn't remember what he had written, so whatever it said would be a surprise. He read it silently to himself.
Dear future me,
If you're reading this, it means you made it! We never chose a set date to open this box so you might be twenty-five, or you might even be eighty. Wherever you're at, it means you're still going and you're still fighting. I haven't been able to find a job yet, so hopefully you have. Who knows, maybe you're a famous movie star by now. As long as you aren't living off the money you saved up from birthdays and your allowance, you're probably doing all right.
I wonder what it's like in the future. It's a scary place, full of unknowns. Maybe by now they've cured all disease, and you don't have a disorder anymore. Or maybe the future isn't the utopia everyone envisions and you still take medication every day and you still see a doctor every week and you still have anxiety attacks every now and again. That's okay, there's no tragedy in that. I'm learning that it's okay to struggle and fall, as long as you have someone there to help you back up. I'm not ashamed of myself anymore, so you're not, either.
In case you've forgotten, I'll tell you what's going on now in the present, or past I guess, for you. Zoey and I have been dating for about five months now, I know, I can't believe it either. I can't bring myself to kiss her, it's like I have this fear that if I kiss her, I'll wake up and it will have all been a dream. Hopefully by now you've worked up the courage to kiss her, but since we're the same person and I know you so well, I wouldn't be surprised if you still hadn't kissed her. But please, do us both a favor and kiss her at least once, don't let your fears stop you.
You being in the future, you probably have more wisdom than me, along with a flying car. But I just want to remind you, in case you've forgotten, don't ever let Zoey go, or forget to love her. She's the best thing that's ever happened to you, and a future where you're not with her isn't a future I want to have. But make sure you don't forget Cam either, or Mom and Dad. We don't remember everything we're supposed to with a disorder like this, so I wanted to make sure that no matter what happens, you don't forget what's most important.
Before I end this letter to future Mike, I just want to say that, in spite of all of my struggles, doubts, and fears, I really think I can make it, and I think you will, too. I used to think that there was nothing for me, that my future was bleak and empty, but I have high hopes for myself, and so I expect you to make something of yourself. Maybe you're a famous movie star, or maybe you sweep the floors. Either way, as long as you still have all your loved ones around you and you remember to love them, then we're doing all right. That's good enough for me, and so it's good enough for you, too.
Mike smiled, thinking of his younger self. So much had happened since then, and so much more would happen, and he looked forward to it.
They went through the rest of the items in the box, and then they put them back in, along with a few new photos, drawings, keepsakes, letters and love notes. Mike put his letter to himself back in, as well. He wanted to read it again someday.
They buried the box again, and this time they decided to wait a few decades before reopening it. Once it was completely buried, Mike pulled Zoey in and kissed her. It wasn't the first time he had initiated a kiss, but he felt he owed it to past Mike. If only younger Mike could see him now, see how far he'd come when once he'd believed himself to be a hopeless case. He still had MPD and he didn't have a flying car, but he had all his loved ones, and he would make sure he would never forget to love them.
Neither Mike nor Zoey considered themselves celebrities, but that's what they were now. They got lots of fan mail, and every now and again the paparazzi surprised them. One day though, Mike got a call and was asked to speak to kids with MPD. At first, he thought about turning them down. Now that he had his memories back from Mal, he had even more reason to avoid the paparazzi. He didn't need or want the world to know about that, it was too personal and he only trusted a few people with the story.
"They'll probably want me to talk about my childhood and all the abuse, I don't know if I'm ready to talk about that, or if I want the whole world to know about it."
"You don't have to give the details," said Zoey. They were sitting on the couch in the living room of his parents' new house. They had been watching Total Warriors 3 again and eating popcorn when the phone rang.
"People are already pushing me to write a book or sign a movie deal. The book thing isn't so bad I guess, but in a movie they're sure to exaggerate everything or portray it in the wrong light. And I don't want my story used as a cash grab anyway. Maybe I'll change my mind someday about the book, but for now it's a no. If I agree to speak, they'll think I've changed my mind and they'll hound me even more."
"They will, but they'll get tired and leave eventually, once they learn that no means no."
"Why would they want me to speak, anyway? I'm terrible at public speaking."
"No you're not. You're a great actor, acting and public speaking are pretty similar."
"When I'm acting, I'm pretending to be someone else. Public speaking is just me up there, trying not to make a fool of myself. If I screw up, no one will take me or the cause seriously."
"No one's forcing you to do this, but I really think you should. Kids with mental disorders need people to look up to, don't you wish you had had someone with DID to look up to when you were a kid?"
"Well, yeah. It would have made me feel not so alone."
"And you wouldn't have cared if that person had trouble speaking in public, you wouldn't have expected them to be perfect. Look what you've accomplished, you survived through a terrible nightmare, and you went on to become an actor and you're making a life for yourself. Not to mention, you won a million dollars. I don't think that's your greatest achievement, but it is impressive. The best thing about you, I think, is that no matter how bad things get, you're always optimistic and determined to keep going. That's the best message you can send to these kids."
"You're right, I should do this. Just keep your fingers crossed nothing goes wrong."
"I won't have to," she said as she kissed him.
Two weeks later, he was in a big college auditorium. He was wearing a suit and tie to look nice, but he felt so self-conscious. The place was packed, every seat had adults and kids, and Mike was growing more nervous every second. There was a camera crew, this was going on TV, he hadn't been told that part.
He was seriously considering cancelling all this, he was sure to ruin everything, and on TV no less. But then he noticed a little girl with pigtails walking to her seat. She was speaking, but then she seemed to stiffen and started holding herself differently.
"Is that what it looks like to other people when I switch?" he quietly asked himself. He wondered what had happened to that little girl to make her develop multiple personalities. It was then that he realized just how important this was. Kids like that little girl needed someone to tell them everything was going to be all right, and it would have the most meaning coming from someone like him, someone who knew what they were going through. He had to help them, he had to give them hope. He was still very nervous and he really didn't want this to be shown on TV, but maybe that was for the best. Others outside this auditorium would hear his message, and not just people with DID, but people with other mental disorders, as well. This might be the most important thing he would ever do. He refused to back down now, if for no other reason, he had to do this for that little girl.
When it was time for him to speak, he went up to the podium and took a deep breath and cleared his throat.
"Good evening. My name is Mike Skinner, and I have Multiple Personality Disorder. I almost didn't make it tonight, Svetlana is missing a gymnastics competition because of this, and she's not very happy with me tonight."
The crowd laughed, and he felt himself relax a little. Jack told him if he could make his audience laugh, it would make him and everyone else feel more comfortable, and he was right. Laughter really was the best medicine.
"It's a good thing it was just Svetlana, she and I get along pretty well for the most part. If it had been Vito, you would have had to find another speaker. It's hard getting along when everyone in your head has their own opinion, especially when it comes to music. I carry CDs in my car that have opera, rap, and folk songs to keep the peace on long drives. I actually have one song that's a mix of all three, with some Japanese pop on the side. That song's an adventure from start to finish."
That got more laughs, and he found himself smiling.
"When the others are in control, obviously I want to get control back as soon as possible, but that's not always a good thing. I've come back after gymnastics tournaments when people were asking Svetlana questions about how she trains and how she does all those stunts, and I have no idea what I'm talking about. I usually just make something up and they buy it. I've come back while Manitoba is busy wrangling snakes, so I'm pretty much immune to snake venom now. I also once came back when he was messing with a bear, it's a good thing I'm a fast runner."
The crowd was loving this, it made him feel more confident.
"It's not always easy for Zoey, either. Chester once came out in the middle of a kiss, and let me just say, if she can still kiss me after that, there's nothing she can't do."
He waited for the laughing to die down before continuing. "You're a really great audience, by the way. I felt like I was going to explode from nerves before, but now I've contained it to just my hands. You probably can't see it, but they're shaking like crazy.
"I guess you're all here to hear my life's story, but I have to warn you, it's not a very happy one." The crowd quieted at that. Mike started to walk around on the stage to soothe his nerves. He had a microphone attached to his ear so they could still hear him. He was able to display more confidence than he felt, but he was more confident than he had expected to be. "At least, it didn't start out happy. I won't go into the details, but I was abused from the time I was a toddler through the age of eight. I developed this disorder when I was five, after the loss of my siblings. It was the only way I could cope with the situation, and though it protected me, it's done me more harm than good. While most of my personalities are benign, there are some that wish to do me harm, and one causes harm and chaos in any way he can. He did for two years when I was a child, and he did again when I competed on Total Drama and some time after. That's how I was adopted, one of my alters ran away, and I was found and taken in by a couple who had compassion on me.
"When I first got my diagnosis, I denied it with everything in me. How could my imaginary friends have been brought to life, and in this way? How could it have happened to me, and why? I got angry, too. Most people who know me know I don't get angry often, but on that day I had nothing short of a meltdown. It's okay to get angry sometimes, but try not to break your mother's valuables. Again, sorry about that, Mom. After I calmed down a little, I tried bargaining. I thought if I did everything I was supposed to do I could be cured, but as you all know, that's not the case. I got very depressed after that, I thought my life was over. How could I live my life if it wasn't even mine half the time? But eventually, I came to accept it with the help of my family. I couldn't have had better parents, they've always been patient with me and they've never let me down, not once. I know it was never easy for them, and I can never thank them enough.
"For a long time, I thought I was a slave to my personalities. They dominated my life, and it barely felt like it belonged to me. There were times when I even doubted that I was the original owner of the mind. I've hit some very low points in my life, I've been bullied and stigmatized for my condition, and I always will be. But despite being shunned by some, there have always been people who didn't cast me out. My foster parents were the first, followed by my grandparents, and later, my friends from Total Drama and my fiancé. For a long time, no one in school wanted to be in the same room with me, let alone befriend me. But some of those people came back and stood by me when I needed it, even one of the bullies who had once harassed me for so long. That taught me to not shut people out of my life completely, and to be open to giving forgiveness, even when they might not deserve it. People change, sometimes for the better. There will always be people who will reject me because of my diagnosis, but I know I have people standing by me who won't.
"The reason I'm here today is because I don't want to see any child go through what I went through. When I was a kid, I believed I deserved the abuse I was subjected to, I didn't question it. I thought it was normal, I thought all parents did that. I thought it was my fault, I thought I was a bad kid. Even if I had realized it wasn't normal, I was too scared to go to anyone for help. Even after I was adopted, I was ostracized and ridiculed, and I thought it was fair. Why would anyone want to hang out with a freak like me? Once again, I blamed myself. To this day, I'm quick to blame myself when things don't turn out the way they're supposed to.
"Maybe some of you feel the same way. Let me tell you this, it doesn't matter who you are or what you've done, no child deserves to be abused like that. No one deserves to be ostracized or ridiculed for a condition they have no control over. If you're trying and giving it your all, people should respect that and try to support you, not make you feel ashamed for something you didn't ask for. And if you need help, never be too scared or ashamed to ask for it. I wish I'd had someone tell me that when I was younger.
"I know some of you are adopted, like I was. I was teased a little about that, but for the most part that fact was overlooked because of my MPD. I want to tell you that there is no shame in being adopted. It doesn't matter why you had to go through foster care, whether because of death or your parent's inability to care for you or for any other reason. If I hadn't been taken in by the Skinners, I don't know where I would be right now, or what my life would be like. We might not look the same, but that has never mattered to me, and it shouldn't matter to anyone else. Family doesn't end in blood.
"It's great to see so many people here tonight. Whatever mental disorder you may have, it reminds me that I'm not alone, like I once thought I was. Before you all leave here today, I want everyone to get someone's number or email address, so you can keep in touch and support each other. I wish I had known someone with the disorder growing up, my parents were always supportive but they just couldn't understand what it was like. This is a unique opportunity for you all to find someone who understands what you're going through and who will support you.
"I don't know about you guys, but it takes a lot to keep me going. I have to see my psychiatrist every week, and I've taken pills in every color of the rainbow. Sometimes I feel weak because of it. Why can't I get by on my own, why do I have to take so much medication and see a shrink every week? Other people get by without pills and doctors, why can't I? The answer is, I can get by without pills and doctors, but I don't like the way I feel when I don't take my pills or see my doctor. I've tried to get by without my pills, and it just doesn't give a good result. I'm always nervous and anxious, but I get more so without my meds. I'm always a mess, but my pills make me a little less of a mess. My parents taught me that taking meds doesn't make me weak, and I have a hard time believing it sometimes. But I'm happier when I take my meds, and it makes it easier for my family and friends to put up with me." That got a few laughs.
"Now, I know that you all have probably been picked on, just like I was. The kids at school had an infinite number of names to call me, their favorite was Multiple Mike. It hurt a lot, and I know you know how that feels. It's hard enough sharing your brain with other people, you don't need people rubbing it in your face. It culminated in a prank on the night of a dance, where my crush and some people from my class egged me and made fun of me. You can't hear it on the video, and I've never told anyone this before, but one of them even told me to just put a gun in my mouth." There were several gasps from the audience. He took a few seconds before continuing. "That's the lowest I've ever felt. Killing myself didn't seem like such a bad idea that night, I would be free from my disorder and not have to face the shame and ridicule I faced every day. I came so close to doing it, I was only an inch away from death that night. At the time, it appeared to be the only escape I had left. It was only remembering the love of my family that kept me from going through with it. If I had gone through with it, I wouldn't be here tonight. That's what drove me to go on Total Drama, because I had to make a change. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you should go on a reality show to fix your problems, that wasn't really my smartest move. Fame and fortune doesn't solve anything, more often than not it just causes more problems. But I was desperate, and I thought it was my best option. I really got lucky, Total Drama could never have fixed my problems, if anything, it should have just made everything worse. But I got lucky, and I met the most wonderful girl in the world, and also the most loving and patient. She's sitting down in the front row right now as my cheerleader."
He smiled down at Zoey and she blew him a kiss. Someone from the audience raised their hand.
"Are you saying that all we need is to find true love and that will solve all our problems?" a young girl asked.
"No, that's not what I'm saying at all. Love is what saved me, but it's not a miracle cure. My parents loved me enough to take me in and give me everything I needed, knowing full well that it would turn their worlds upside down. Zoey's love has given me strength in the dark times, and for a long time I believed I needed her to live. But the truth is, I don't. The way I love Zoey has changed over time. My love for her started out as something like idolization, I saw her as utter perfection. Over time, I stopped seeing our relationship like a fairytale, I know she's not perfect and that our love can't fix all our problems. I can have a good life on my own, we both can, but we love and admire each other and want to stay together.
"In our time together, Zoey has helped me build my self-esteem, something I'm awful at. I now see that I can achieve my own dreams and fight my own battles, and she can do the same without me. I can have a good life on my own and still do great things, but I don't want to, not without her by my side. She's my reason for fighting, she catches me when I fall, and she can always cheer me up, no matter how low I get. We don't have a fairytale romance, although we like to pretend sometimes. My curse can't be lifted with true love's kiss, and I'm okay with that. I accept that there's no easy solution and so has she, but she stays with me anyway. That's what true love is, not saving the day, but sticking with the beast, knowing he can't ever be Prince Charming and loving him anyway.
"You don't have to fall in love to survive, either. You should have someone to support you, but it doesn't have to be a partner. Maybe it's your best friend, maybe it's your parents or grandparents, maybe it's your doctor or a teacher, or maybe it's a pet. As long as they encourage you to get through the day and keep on fighting, it doesn't matter what shape or form they come in.
"I think the most important thing I can tell you tonight is this: don't ever think you're any less of a person just because of your disorder. I still struggle with this, I still think of myself as a freak sometimes. I try not to, but it's in my nature to put myself down. But I decided years ago that my condition would not define me, that I would give people a reason to remember me that wasn't my disorder. I'm still working on it. I'll be acting in my theater's production of Les Miserables in a few months, I'm playing Cosette." To the laughs, he smiled and said, "No, not really, they turned me down for that role. I'm actually playing Marius. It was always my dream to be an actor, and I'm fulfilling it. Ever since I was little I loved movies, stories and my imagination were the only escape I had. I wanted to be brave and strong like the heroes, they always won in the end and they were liked by everyone. Acting as someone else was better than being just Mike. I still love acting, but I don't need the escape anymore, not like I used to. It's not easy and I don't expect it to ever be easy, but it is worth it. Once you make the decision that you're stronger than your disorder and you set out to prove it to the world, it's amazing what you can do."
The audience clapped and cheered for him, he even got a standing ovation. After he left the stage, people of all ages came over to shake his hand and tell him how much he meant to them.
"I can't believe you won Total Drama All Stars, I didn't think people like us were capable of things like that. I don't have MPD, but I think what you said applies to most every disorder. Thank you."
"I'm going to start seeing my psychiatrist again, and start taking my pills again. I did feel better with them."
"You really encouraged our son, he had all but given up, but you inspired him to keep going. I can never thank you enough for that."
He was surprised to see his doctor in line.
"Dr. Lace? What are you doing here?"
"Mike, I'm not your doctor anymore, you can call me Aria if you like," she said with a warm smile.
"I'll never get used to calling you that, it feels wrong."
"Carrot Top called me a few days ago, there was a thunderstorm he was afraid of. He mentioned you had something important going on tonight."
"Is he still calling you? I'm sorry, he still doesn't trust my new doctor very much."
"I don't mind him calling me, especially if it calms him. By the way, he also mentioned that one of your other alters hid your car keys in your spare shoes."
"Thanks, I was looking for them everywhere. Zoey drove me here tonight since I couldn't find them."
"You know Mike, the first time I saw you, I was scared stiff."
"Really? Why?" he asked.
"Up until then, I'd only treated children with things like anxiety or autism, common things that I'd learned all about in college. But then your mother called me and told me about you, and how it was very likely you had DID. I immediately started researching it and talking to my colleagues to prepare myself. It's rare, so I didn't focus on it in college as much as I did other things. You came in, and at first glance there appeared to be nothing amiss, but that didn't last very long. When your alters first started showing themselves, I was worried that I would mess up and do you more harm than good. It was a learning experience for me, and very difficult, but I'm glad I got to be your doctor. I came here tonight to brag on one of my most successful patients."
"But you never cured me, how can I be considered a success?"
"Mike, I've helped "cure" people in the past who went on to do absolutely nothing with their lives. But here you are, making a difference and helping others in spite of your condition. Better to do something great with a disorder than to do nothing without one. I'm so proud of you, come see me sometime. Since we're not doctor-patient anymore, now we can just be friends."
"I'd like that very much," he said as he hugged her.
The little girl he had seen before came over and hugged him around the waist. "I always wanted to be a doctor, but my sister says I can't because I have MPD. I'm gonna show her, I want to be just like you when I grow up."
"You're going to do great, kid," he said, and she smiled up at him. She ran along to join her parents, and Mike shook hands with everyone else. It was a little overwhelming, he'd never seen so many people wanting to meet him before. He couldn't stop smiling, even though shaking so many hands and talking to so many people got tiresome after a while.
After everyone filed out, two more people came up to him, two people he had never expected to see again. It took him a few seconds to recognize them, but once he did, it made him feel very uncomfortable. They hadn't seen each other since they were children, and Mike hadn't thought about them much.
"Hello Mike, long time no see, huh?"
"Hi Brian, hi Tina. What are you doing here?"
"We heard you were giving a speech tonight, and we thought we'd come," said Brian.
He and Brian looked very similar, though he was stockier than Mike and not as tall, and his hair was tamer. Tina had dark brown hair that hit her shoulders, and she had the same eyes as Mike, the ones they had inherited from their father. Behind them, he saw the old woman he once spoke to in the park, the woman who said he looked like her son. He now knew her to be Brian and Tina's grandmother, his grandmother.
The old woman came to stand before him. She held up a photograph that looked almost exactly like him. "Unbelievable. You look more like him than Brian does," she murmured. He caught a glimpse of the picture, Victor Wise was smiling in a prom picture with his date, the woman who would later be his wife. He looked so happy in it, he looked so human.
She looked him right in the eye. "Did my son hurt you? Is he the one who did this to you?"
Mike hesitated, but then replied, "Yes."
She turned away and started to cry. "How could anyone hurt their own children?" she asked herself. He started to reach out to her, but the image of the picture in his mind held him back. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm so, so sorry." She walked away, and Mike felt like apologizing, even though he had nothing to apologize for.
"Is she going to be okay?" he asked. He felt sorry for her, it didn't matter that she was the mother of his father.
"She'll be all right," said Tina.
"We thought now might be the best time to talk about… things," said Brian.
"What's there to talk about?" said Mike. He was dreading this conversation. Zoey came over to his side and asked, "Who are you talking to?"
"Brian and Tina, this is Zoey, my fiancé. Zoey, this is Brian and Tina, my half-brother and sister."
"Oh. Should I go?"
"You can stay, if you want," said Brian. "We wanted apologize, I'm not quite sure how to say this."
"What do you have to apologize for? You had nothing to do with what was going on, and even if you had known, there was nothing you could have done."
"Well, you see Mike, a lot happened after your house burned down and you disappeared," said Tina. "They called Mom that night and told her that Father was dead, and she told us the next morning. It was devastating, we lost our father and we didn't know why. But then we found out that he was dead because he'd been at your house the night of the fire. No big deal, Eleanor might have needed something and he was just trying to help. But then they said they found his body in bed with her, and there was no explaining that away. They couldn't find you anywhere and so it seemed obvious that you were behind it, but that was when everyone decided to come out and act like they had been on your side from the beginning. They all said how they knew you were being abused but they didn't want to intervene because it was none of their business, but the truth was they didn't want to get their hands dirty with a family with a reputation for insanity. They waited until it was too late to do anything to offer you any support. Your mother was dead and you had vanished, so they couldn't ask if Victor really had done those things, but everyone put the pieces together without any difficulty.
"Father was exposed as the monster he was, and it shamed our whole family. They didn't blame us, but they never treated us the same after that. It's hard when the person you thought was perfect turns out to be anything but. It broke our mom's heart, she never trusted another man after that. For a while, Brian and I blamed you for what happened. To us, you represented his betrayal, and we hated you. It was easier to blame you, the boy we hardly knew and everyone thought was insane, than to blame our father, the man we loved and thought could do no wrong. But after a few years, we realized how stupid that was. You didn't choose him to be your father, and you had it worse off than we did. We saw ourselves as the victims for a long time, but we finally opened our eyes and saw that you were the real victim."
"We wanted to make amends, and to apologize for everything," said Brian. "We know what happened to you wasn't our fault, but since father would never have apologized, we feel we need to in his place. We know you probably don't want us around, we must remind you of him, but we at least wanted to talk to you, let you know that we do care about what happened to you."
"If you want to never see us again, we completely understand. We just wanted to give you the choice," said Tina.
This was very hard for Mike. They were right, seeing them did remind him of his biological father, and all those horrific memories were suddenly at the forefront of his mind. He wanted to just forget those eight years had ever happened, but now he was being forced to confront them again. He wanted to say no, he didn't want to see them anymore because it was too painful. But at the same time, he knew this was difficult for them as well. No one was comfortable here, but they were still making the effort to make amends. They were his half-siblings, he didn't want to just cut them out of his life forever. Making amends would be good for him and for them.
"I want to make peace and try to forget what happened," he said at last. "It's going to take a long time for me to be comfortable around you, but I'm willing to try. Let's take it slow."
They both smiled. "Would you like to meet your nieces and nephew?"
"I'm an uncle?" said Mike incredulously.
"Kids, come out and meet Uncle Mike."
Three young girls and a boy came over. They were accompanied by Tina's husband and Brian's wife.
"The girls are mine, Emma, Lisa, and Julie," said Brian. "The boy is Tina's, Elliot."
"So you're Uncle Mike? We saw you on TV," said Emma.
"You were awesome!" said Lisa.
Mike didn't know what to make of this, this was the last thing he had expected. He was suddenly an uncle, and despite his feelings of unease, he had to admit that these kids were sweet. They made him feel less uncomfortable.
Elliot hugged him around the waist and said, "Can we visit you sometime, Uncle Mike?"
"Maybe sometime, we'll see." The more he thought about it, the more he realized he wouldn't mind seeing them again.
Brian and Tina both shook Mike's hand, and then they took their kids and left. They went to their grandmother and tried to coax her into going with them, but she was still crying and rooted to the spot. Mike couldn't ignore her, and he went over to talk to her. Zoey followed suit.
"Mrs. Wise?" he said as he put a hand on her shoulder.
"I'm sorry, I'll go," she mumbled.
"No, wait. I don't want you to leave here like this. I know you must feel partially responsible for what happened-"
"He was my son, my only son, I should have seen it."
"No one else saw it, either. Not the police or my teacher, not even his own wife."
"Did he murder your siblings, my grandchildren?"
"No, my mother did that. He hurt them, but he didn't kill them."
She seemed relieved to hear that, but it was a small relief. She continued weeping.
"I don't blame you for what happened, Mrs. Wise. It wasn't your fault."
"He was a monster, and I was his mother. After everything he did to you, you can look me in the eye with pity and forgiveness?" she said as she met his eyes. "You don't hate me for what happened?"
"I don't hate you. It's hard being around you, it hurts, but I don't hate you."
The flow of tears stopped, she looked up at him and said, "Thank you, Mike."
He gave her a little smile and said, "Maybe I'll see you in the park sometime."
She offered him a quivery little smile in return. "I'd like that."
She left with Brian and Tina then, and as they watched them leave, Mike put an arm around Zoey's shoulders and said, "I'm emotionally drained, but not in a bad way." He was more tired emotionally than he was physically.
"That was very brave of you, I'm glad you're making amends," said Zoey. "Maybe someday you'll be able to see them without thinking of your father."
"Maybe I can, I hope so."
One more person came over to see them. She had wild, dark red curls. "Hello Mike, I'm the one who spoke with you on the phone," she said with a Scottish lilt. "My name is Esmeralda Pond, your grandmother probably mentioned me."
Mike's eyes widened. "Are you the Esmeralda, the one with ten personalities?"
She smiled. "I see she did mention me. I wish I could have met you sooner, but I haven't talked to your grandmother in so long that I only recently found out you even existed. I wish I had known sooner, I could have been a guide to you when you were a lad."
"I'm glad to get to meet you now, at least."
"I run a foundation for children who've been abused or neglected, especially children who developed mental disorders as a result. It's to increase awareness and help find them good homes, and help them not feel like outcasts, like you and I did. Would you like to join? You could spread the impact you had here today to others, your story is an inspiration."
"Yeah, okay, I'd love to help. Maybe I could talk to my stage manager about donating a certain amount from ticket sales to the cause."
"That's a wonderful idea. Now, I know you must be exhausted so I'll let you go, but here's my number, we'll talk more later. Mike, I want you to know that you're making a difference. You're just one man, but you're helping so many people."
Mike and Zoey left the auditorium. Mike was tired, but he was in high spirits. He really was making a difference, and something good had come from his disorder, something he hadn't believed possible. If having to go through all that meant he could help others and prevent them from going through what he had suffered, it was worth it to him. There was a plan for his life, after all.
After Mike had defeated Mal once again and got his life back, there were things he needed to do. He knew who Jake was now, and he knew that what Mal had said to him on the island was just a cruel, sick joke, and he hadn't even known it at the time. It made him hate Mal even more.
He asked Jack to go with him back to where he used to live. The house had not been rebuilt after all this time, no one lived there. There was no grass where the house once stood, it was all dry
dirt. Nothing would grow there anymore.
They took shovels and began to dig. This was a very hard decision for Mike to make, but it was what he believed was right. The swimming pool was no longer there, but he knew where to dig.
The grave was shallow so it didn't take much digging. They found Jake's bones in the dirt, still wrapped in his blanket. With him was the old baseball they used to play with. He'd buried it with him on that night, since he no longer had anyone to play with.
Mike gently lifted him out and they filled the hole back in. After some digging around, they found Lizzie's grave, as well.
A few days later, they reburied the bones in the graveyard in Mike's town. He believed they deserved a real funeral since they hadn't gotten one before. It was just Mike, Zoey, Jack, Holly, and Cameron at the service. During the service, Mike was too sad and drained to even cry. Zoey held his hand through the whole thing, she was his anchor.
He wasn't able to visit their graves again for several months, it was too painful. But when springtime came, so did Lizzie's birthday, and he couldn't overlook that.
"Hey guys," he said as he knelt down by their graves side by side. He had chosen a place for them by a lake, it was the most beautiful part of the cemetery. On their stones was written, They were loved more than words can say. "It's been so long since we've talked. There's so much I want to tell you, but I don't know where to begin. I asked Zoey to marry me, she said yes, can you believe it?"
Talking to them was calming, he could almost pretend they were really there, listening. Being here brought on the question that plagued him: why not him? Why did they have to die, and why was he allowed to live? It didn't seem fair. But he forced the question away; he would never know the answer, and dwelling on it wouldn't change anything. It was a mystery, and it would always be a mystery. Even though it didn't always seem like it, the fact that he was still alive was a gift, and he would make the most of it.
"We're going to be married in the summer, it's going to be a beautiful ceremony. I wish you could be there. I wish I could hear your voices." Tears began to stream down his cheeks. "If only I could have protected you like promised I would… but that's enough about that. I know you're both in a better place, you couldn't be happier and you wouldn't want to come back even if you could. But I wish you could. Maybe it's selfish, but I just wish I could have had more time with you, you always made me happy, even in the worst of times."
Zoey was watching from afar, letting Mike have a moment with his brother and sister alone. She was looking at a drawing Mike had drawn of them, since there were no pictures of them in existence. He had drawn it from memory, and he drew them smiling. This was how he wanted to remember them, he wanted to remember them happy. She picked up a box of rose seedlings and carried them over.
"Jake, Lizzie, this is Zoey, the love of my life," he said as she knelt down beside him. "I wish you could meet her, she's the most wonderful person in the world. You'd love her, too. We brought some flowers for your birthday, Lizzie. We're going to plant them so that they'll last. I remember how you loved flowers."
He and Zoey got to work planting the roses in front of her grave. They were just buds right now, but soon they would blossom into bright red roses.
"She was always so quiet," he was talking to Zoey now. "But I know she had so much to say. She would have been as beautiful as these roses will be."
He took a toy bicycle out of his pocket. "It's not your birthday Jake, but I brought you something, too. You wanted a bike for Christmas. Well, it's a little late, but I got you one. I wish I could have taught you to ride one. I wish you could have flown like you wanted."
He set the bike on his tombstone and looked to Zoey. "He loved to play, and he could always make me laugh. I'm glad I got to have them for a little while, even if it wasn't nearly long enough."
Zoey was crying silently, and she put her arms around him. They sat there in silence for a few minutes, their cheeks wet with tears.
"I'll come back soon, I promise," said Mike, once they were ready to leave. He took Zoey's hand and felt the ring on her finger. They walked out of the cemetery and back to the car.
"Are you okay?" Zoey asked.
"Yeah, I actually am. I feel… peaceful. I thought I wouldn't be able to do it, but talking to them made me feel surprisingly better. I have closure now, now I can move on and look ahead to the rest of my life. Life has never been easy for me, but I see now that all the hardship I went through was leading me to you, my parents, and my friends. I know there are better days ahead, and I'll get to share them with you."
He looked down at her with a smile. She could still see sorrow in his eyes, but in spite of everything he could still smile and keep going.
Zoey put her arms around him and just felt the steady rise and fall of his chest. He nuzzled his face in her hair. Behind her, he watched the sun set.
"I was thinking, maybe we could bump up the wedding to spring," said Zoey. "I've already finished the dress, it wouldn't be too difficult to get everything ready in a month or two. Would you be okay with that? I know I'm being impatient, but I just don't know if I can wait until summer."
"I would love a spring wedding. But I am a little worried about my alters doing something to mess up the ceremony."
"Leave that to me, I already have a plan."
"I still can't believe I'm getting married," he said in awe.
"Neither can I."
"I'll never be able to believe it, not even if we were married for a hundred years."
"What will we do with Satchimo? I'll take allergy medicine every day if you want to keep him."
"I'll let him stay with my parents, it'll give me an excuse to visit them often."
"I can't wait to move into your house, it'll be such a lovely home."
"It's full of memories, that's for sure. I can't wait to make new ones with you."
His little life wasn't perfect, but he wouldn't ask for any other. He had come a long way, he had fought through hell and back, and his efforts had finally paid off in friends and loved ones. It was his life, flawed though it may be, and he was content and happy in it.
Author's Note: Thank you so much to everyone who left reviews, feedback is so important to me, it lets me know when I'm doing a good job and it can help me make improvements (and my writing can always use improvement). And thanks to everyone for sticking with the story all the way through, I'm so glad you liked it. You've all been so sweet, and I have never gotten this many reviews before, you blew my mind. Thank you for all your support, it means so much to me, more than you know.
I think this will be my last major zoke fic. I might write some one-shots or little ficlets for my zoke babies every now and again, but that will be it. What I write all depends on if I get hit with the inspiration, so we'll see what comes. Again, thank you all so much, you guys are the best. :)