"That coffee," Marlon explained merrily, "was just the beginning for us. I'll always treasure that morning. Exactly as I'd suspected, Dad hovered over us from behind the counter - watching us both like a hawk. In the end, Big Mo - God bless him - dragged him into the break room so we'd get some privacy."
"I was so keen to impress on our second date, I pulled all the stops out. On a tip from my editor, I got us a table at the hottest restaurant in town. Cassandra turned up in this beautiful catwalk creation. As I recall, it showed off her assets quite well - "
"Never mind. Needless to say, it all went swimmingly. The food was amazing, and Cassandra and I got on like a house on fire. It seemed my editor wasn't alone in his high opinion of the venue, either. Plenty of couples surrounded us that night."
"We carried on dating like that for two more months, and then, we decided to make things official. Later, three years after I'd first met Cassandra, I took her for a nice, romantic walk in the park one evening. It was there, in front of the fountain, that I popped the question."
"You did what?"
"I asked her to marry me."
"Did she say yes?"
"Think about that for a second."
"Oh... yeah! She must have done!"
"It took us four months to plan everything. I wanted it to be a perfect day for her. We found this perfect little chapel on the outskirts of town. There, on a beautiful sunny day, we promised to love one another forever."
"Dad spent a week making the cake - it was almost four feet high by the time he was done! It was a shame to slice into it, but tradition is tradition. Even Big Mo couldn't finish it off - we were all still eating it a month later!"
"The following fortnight, the whole family headed up to Willow Creek University for Libby's graduation. A BA in Photography, First Class Honours. It was impressive - I'd only managed a 2.1 when I studied Journalism. We were all very proud of her, but Dad was absolutely ecstatic. He told everyone who came into the café about it for weeks.
"Alex was there too. He and Libby had become a couple in the first few weeks of her course. He got a real grilling from Dad the first time Libby brought him home, but he faced it bravely. It was nothing personal: Alex could have been a saintly millionaire, and Dad still would have gone loco. He just cared about his little girl so much. Mum, on the other hand, loved him from the get-go: she thought he was a real gentleman, with great prospects. In time, Alex won Dad round, and during his own graduation two years later - a degree in Medicine, again with top honours - he used the opportunity to ask Libby to become his wife."
"So, in between the hurry-scurry of Libby setting up her own photography studio, Alex starting work at the hospital, and finding a place to live, they somehow fit in their Gothic-style wedding. They thought the theme was appropriate, seeing how they'd met. There were a few giggles when Alex's full name was read out, and he was surprised that his bride didn't have to promise to obey him. Pleasantly surprised. He never would have asked that of her... and let's face it, we know who the boss really is in that relationship."
"It was a great day, but I remember my poor Cassandra wished they'd left it until later. By that point, she could hardly fit into any of her pretty dresses."
"Because she and I were expecting a very special someone..."
Across the table in the Brown Sugar Café, ten-year-old Max's face broke out into a smile.
"That was me!" he cried proudly.
"Yes," he said softly, his hand resting on a large tome in front of him. "Our precious Maxwell Miskin - heir to the Miskin Legacy. Your birth was a time of great celebration for us all."
"Once we'd brought you home from the hospital, your mother and I hardly got a look-in! Grandad Mitch was utterly besotted with you. He even retired from the café so he could look after you whilst we and your mum went to work. As you entered your toddler years, Grandad Mitch taught you to walk and talk, and played with you at all hours of the day. Your giggles were so loud, they shook the walls!"
"Sadly, these happy times had to come to an end. Just before you turned two, your Grandma Nimue collapsed one morning whilst she was in the living room."
"As we waited for the ambulance to come, she clutched your granddad's hand, saying how much she loved him, and begging him to forgive her for - well, a very bad thing - she once did with a man named Clyde. Big Mo's brother. My dad just shushed her and stroked her hair, saying he had already forgiven her a long time ago, and she didn't have to worry about it for a moment more. She was rushed to the hospital, but... there was nothing they could do. She died later that day, with Mitch still faithfully by her side."
"Dad was devastated. As awful as it was, your grandma's passing made him realise that his own time was drawing near. He decided to write to Clyde, saying he was willing to forget the past, and inviting him to the funeral. Clyde accepted the invitation, and when he arrived, he laid a bouquet of black and white flowers on Nimue's grave - to represent a magpie, he said - and shook my father's hand, thanking him for giving him the chance to say goodbye. Despite everything that had happened, he insisted Mitch would always be his friend, as would Nimue. On top of that, he understood Mitch's pain: Bonnie, his own beloved wife, had died three years previously. At the wake, he spent a lot of time with Big Mo, asking after the family. He seemed especially interested in Lucy, Loki, and their six children - saying he loved his "great-nieces and great-nephews" very much. I remember he said those words in a very strange way: I never did find out why. He himself passed away a month later... around the same time we found out Dad was sick."
"Two months later, Libby came by with some much-needed happy news. She and Alex were having a baby. As Dad put his hands on her tiny bump, wiping away tears of joy, he vowed that, no matter what the doctors said, he would be here to meet the child. In the end, he kept his word... but only just."
"When Libby's daughter, Charlotte Eloise Nimue Thorebourne, came into this world on the labour ward of Willow Creek Hospital, Dad was in a room a few floors above her - weak, and in the final stages of his illness. He didn't mind too much: he was entering his seventies by that point, and he'd had a long, happy life. "Only the good die young," he once told me, jokingly. All the same, as soon as she was fit to be moved after the birth, Libby asked Alex to help her into a wheelchair, and she cradled the girl in her arms as he rushed them up in the lift. The matron went mad, but all the same, she understood. When his new granddaughter was placed into his arms, it was like a light in Mitch's heart had been switched back on. Bubbling over with love, he even managed to get out of bed, and slowly danced around the room, cuddling Charlotte close. Cassandra, you and I came by during the visit. I don't think I'd ever seen my father happier since your own arrival."
"Four days later, as the nurse was helping Mitch into bed for the night, he kept staring into the corner of the room. When she asked him what was wrong, he told her that his mother and father were there, waiting for him. She thought nothing of it... probably just an hallucination caused by the pain relief medication."
"In the early hours of the morning, when she went back into the room to check on him, he had left us. He'd passed away peacefully in his sleep."
"When I came in after I got the call, the nurse told me what he'd said. I knew right away it was true. Knowing my father hadn't died alone brought me some peace, but it was still heartbreaking to lose him. He was buried next to Nimue in the family graveyard, close to his father. Six weeks later, his twin brother Marius also passed - having had the good fortune to meet his own grandchild."
"Leo, my eldest cousin, and my playmate in the nursery, had married a lovely woman by the name of Gloria Bairn... who had more half-brothers and half-sisters than I can count on both hands. Rumour had it she was an illegitimate descendant of one of the Landgrabbs, a very wealthy dynasty indeed... but that didn't matter to Leo. He loved her for her. Within two years, they'd welcomed a son, who they named "Thomas" - or "Tom" for short."
"In his will, given that both of his children had different jobs, Dad decided to leave the café to Moses Thacker-Creswell - to thank him for his years of friendship and loyal service. With Mitch's blessing, it was to be passed along his descendants for as long as they wished to run it. Since Mo himself had retired, he gave the café straight to one of his daughters."
"Mrs. Munch!" Max cried.
Behind the café counter, a woman giggled.
"Max, sweetie," she said kindly, "our families have been good friends for many, many years. You can call me "Daisy". It's all right."
Sighing, she turned to Marlon.
"Daddy Mo really was grateful to Mitch, you know," she told him. "He treasured the security provided by such a kind gesture - given that his own family had grown at a rather alarming rate."
"What do you mean?" Max asked.
"Well," Daisy began, "it was like this..."
"After coming home from my shift at the café one evening, I spotted a intruder in the garden: a young man attempting to dig minerals out of a large rock. When I rushed up to him to ask what the heck he was doing there, he looked up at me in alarm... and the second I saw his beautiful eyes, I was smitten."
"It turned out that the man, whose name was Idris Munch, hadn't realised the land was private, as we Thacker-Creswells didn't have a fence. An avid collector, he'd simply ventured into the garden in search of some interesting natural phenomena. He apologised profusely, but I assured him it was fine. As we chatted, it emerged we had mutually cheerful outlooks on life, and generally had a lot in common. Much, much later, Idris would confess that he occasionally struggled with kleptomania... which, thankfully, Daddy Mo was rather understanding of, given his own shady past! In any case, we soon started dating. Not long afterwards, I - love-drunk as I was - proposed to my beau, and we tied the knot."
"Does that mean you got married?"
"Before the year was out, Idris would become pregnant."
"But, Daisy... I thought it was the mummy who had the baby?"
"It's... it's a bit more complicated in our family, Max, honey. Let's just leave it at that, OK?"
"I still remember how scared he was when his time came. How scared we both were. In fact, Idris may have been calmer than me! Anyway, I whisked him off to the hospital, and it was there that he gave birth..."
"... to our three, beautiful children. Triplets. Adam, Sarah, and Joshua Munch."
"Daddy Mo and Theo loved them so. I'm so glad they got to meet them before they died. Daddy Mo went first. Losing Mitch and Clyde had been so hard for him. In the end, he passed over after having trouble with his heart - that big, loving heart of his - and him leaving us left my Daddy Theo's broken. He held on for a couple of years, but he was never the same. One morning, I found him in bed, having died in the night - a soft smile spread across his face. In an instant, I knew he was with Daddy Mo once again."
"Whatever happened to Polly?" Marlon asked. "I don't see her around much these days."
"She became a scientist, just like Daddy Theo," Daisy replied. "She always was the smartest sister."
"Did she ever marry?"
"Oh, yes," Daisy said. "That's why you won't see her that often - we don't, either. But don't worry, she's absolutely fine. We know. She met someone very special indeed."
Daisy raised her finger to her lips, and winked.
"I can't say any more," she said mischievously. "Spoilers."
With that, she returned to her grind. Literally. After all, she had lattes to brew.
Smiling, Marlon turned back to his son.
"So, that's it," he said. "That's the story of how me and your mother met. Will that be enough for your school report?"
"I think so," Max replied. "Should I mention the vampires?"
"Probably not," Marlon answered, shaking his head. "Your teacher might think you've been watching one too many scary movies. Just say I interviewed your mum at a fashion event. I'm a journalist, so it's believable."
"OK," Max said, making a mental note. "But tell me... does our family have any other interesting stories?"
"Oh, dozens of them!" Marlon replied eagerly. "Mine's just the tip of the iceberg. Your ancestors were detectives, doctors, comedians... all sorts of amazing people, and some really amazing things happened to them. Do you want to see some of their photos?"
Marlon opened up the tome, which was filled with snapshots of the various Miskin family members from over the years. Max flicked speedily through the pages, asking questions nineteen to the dozen. However, his hand stopped suddenly when his eyes fell on the image of two young women stood side by side.
"Who's the lady in pink?" he asked.
"She," Marlon explained, "is your great-great-great grandmother, Zara van Halen Miskin. Next to her is Miranda, who was the twin sister of your great-great-great grandad Milo, and later married Zara's brother, Marnix. They were musicians."
"Musicians?!" Max gasped, thrilled. "Just like I want to be when I'm grown up?!"
"Indeed," Marlon replied, stifling a laugh at his excited reaction. "I think she would be very proud of you."
He looked at Max's pink shirt - his favourite out of everything in his wardrobe.
"And I daresay she'd appreciate your taste in colours, too," he added.
At once, Max asked his father to tell him everything he knew about Zara. She, he had swiftly decided, was going to be his inspiration.
It was a notion that would turn out to be more than a passing fancy.
THUS ENDS GENERATION EIGHT
Brace yourselves, dear readers! A star is about to be born!