All throughout his wife's pregnancy, Max waited on her hand and foot. He knew how disappointed she was, having to postpone all of her auditions and filming now she was on the verge of her big break. Besides, carrying a little person was tough on the body, and Katie constantly made it clear just how tired she was.
Still bearing the burden of his own busy schedule, Max could relate - but knew no matter how hard things were for him, it must be worse for Katie, and constantly rewarded her with affection, gifts and massages.
One afternoon, towards the end of the third trimester, Max sat on a stool in their home gym, rubbing his poor Katie's swollen feet. However, just as he was beginning to press down on her sole, she winced in pain, and gasped loudly.
"Sorry!" Max cried, stopping at once. "Is that tender?"
"No," Katie replied, hastily drawing breath. "It's... it's the baby..."
Right away, the long-discussed birth plan came into play within Max's brain. Whipping out his mobile phone, he called for an ambulance to take his beloved to St. Benedict's.
A natural birth, Katie had decided, was completely out of the question. She was far too posh to push, and had insisted the doctors arrange for her to deliver the child by C-section. As she was wheeled into the operating theatre, Max remained faithfully by her side, doing his best to contain his panic at the ever-more-imminent prospect of fatherhood.
Within the hour, their son had entered the world.
"So... what are we going to call him?" Katie asked her husband three days later, as she was recovering in their bedroom at home.
"I've put a lot of thought into that," Max replied. "I was going to suggest... 'Malcolm'."
Katie glared at her husband, wrinkling her nose in disgust.
"'Malcolm'?" she hissed. "What kind of God-awful name is that?"
Max hung his head.
"I... I agree it's not exactly modern," he admitted, "but I was thinking, we could call him 'Mally', for short..."
"Christ, that's even worse!" Katie muttered, almost laughing at the absurdity of it. "No... I think my idea is far more appropriate. 'Nathan.' We'll call him 'Nathan.'"
Max, trembling, reached for her wife's hand.
"But, honey..." he said nervously, "it... it has to begin with an "M". The - the legacy -"
"Oh, you and that bloody legacy!" Katie snapped, snatching her hand away violently. "We've been through all this before. Is that really all you care about? You'd give our beautiful boy a ridiculous name just to please some long-dead ancestors?"
"I... I actually thought "Mally" was quite nice..."
"Well, it isn't," Katie replied bluntly. "It's stupid. And I refuse to be restrained by some stupid ancient rules. He's 'Nathan', and that's final."
"Well... if that's what you want."
"Yes. It is."
Before Max could even risk saying anything further, the baby began to wail within his bassinet. Katie, groaning, fell over onto the bed, pulling the pillow beneath her golden locks.
"Take care of that, would you, Max?" she asked, closing her eyes and feigning sleep.
Max rose obediently, and went to prepare a bottle so the newly-named Nathan could have some milk.
However, the drink did little to calm the infant down, and he continued to cry and cry. Seeing Katie wince as she lay in bed, and hearing her mutter minced oaths, Max scooped Nathan up into his arms, and took him for a little walk up and down the upstairs corridor.
As he approached the window at the end of the hall, Max stopped suddenly when he noticed two familiar figures through the glass.
On the day Max and Katie had moved into their mansion, Marlon and Cassandra had popped along for a look around. However, they were stopped at the front gate by a very angry and determined Katie. She made it crystal-clear that the couple were not welcome in their new home, and from now on, they had absolutely no place in her or Max's lives.
When the two elders headed back to their own home broken-hearted, Katie had next stormed into the mansion to find Max, and informed him that any further contact with his parents was forbidden. They had a plot to turn Max against her, she said, and they weren't to be trusted. Max had to stay away from them to prove he was his own man now.
Now, as Max looked at his parents through the window, the two of them stood in his old room within the ancestral Miskin house, he felt tears springing to his eyes. They were so near, and yet so far. He missed them terribly, but was terrified of incurring his wife's wrath - especially now that they had a young son she could potentially use as leverage. He was essentially a prisoner in a glorified jail.
As Max held Nathan up, putting him in Marlon and Cassandra's eye lines, they smiled widely: overjoyed to be seeing their grandchild for the first time. Cassandra even placed a hand on the window pane - longing to reach through it, to touch and hold the two boys she so dearly loved.
Marlon was mouthing something. Max could see that, but struggled to make out exactly what was being said, shaking his head in confusion. Approaching the glass, Marlon breathed upon it, leaving a thin mist in which he drew a heart with his finger.
We love you.
Max smiled. After quickly checking to make sure Katie wasn't behind him, he breathed on his own window, and drew a heart back.
Alas, the beautiful moment was interrupted when Nathan began to cry once again. As Max gestured towards him, shrugging his shoulders in a "What can you do?" kind of way, he could see his mother giggling and his father nodding understandingly, both waving a goodbye. Max waved back, and then walked away, rocking Nathan slowly in a desperate attempt to soothe him.
With Max now gone once again, Cassandra burst into tears, barely able to cope with the situation she had found herself in. Marlon held her tightly, and slowly led her towards the bed to get some sleep. They always slept in Max's bed now. For reasons they couldn't explain, they felt it gave them a connection to their beloved son.
As for Max, sleep simply wasn't going to happen. Nathan cried almost constantly, with Katie doing absolutely nothing to help. As such, the small hours began a cycle of feeding, nappy changes and lullabies. At 4am, Nathan finally seemed to settle down, and Max, relieved, headed to his own bed - but found himself unable to get any rest, his mind flooded with all sorts of worries.
He took a couple of the pills, but they did nothing to ease the buzzing in his brain. Clearly, he needed something more. Perhaps a little nightcap would help?
Getting up, he lurched downstairs to the lounge, where a stocked minibar resided in one corner. It was generally left alone, except once or twice during Oscar's visits and other high-profile occasions, but desperate times called for desperate measures.
Reaching inside, Max picked up a bottle of vintage, high-alcohol whisky, and poured himself a generous measure, glugging it down. Its effect was immediate. He felt warmed up from within, and his problems seemed to melt away. It was a feeling Max was eager to maintain.
He carried the bottle and glass across into the dining room, where he sat himself down at the table and treated himself to another drink - giving himself a few drops more this time. Max relaxed as he felt the warmth grow and spread. It was a bizarre sensation - rather like what he imagined it would be like to drown in treacle or molasses - but it wasn't at all unpleasant. Quite the opposite, in fact.
After two more drinks, the tiredness claimed him, and with his brain now free of pretty much any thoughts, not just negative ones, Max slumped down into sleep right there on the chair - only to be rudely awoken a hour later by his son's eardrum-shattering wail.
Three weeks went by.
Laura was sat in a recording studio, watching the clock frantically. Max had meant to be here an hour ago to record his new single, and the technicians were growing impatient. Oscar was away meeting some client or other, and there were absolutely no messages on her phone. Where the heck was he?
Suddenly, the door burst open, and Max came bounding in - wearing a pair of heavily tinted sunglasses, and apparently struggling to stand, grasping his head in pain. Laura could smell the booze on him from across the room.
"Sorry I'm late, folks," he muttered. "Bloody migraine."
More like a hangover, Laura thought - but she didn't say anything.
Max staggered into the recording booth under Laura's disconcerted gaze, shielding himself from the bright lights and tapping the microphone a few times as the technicians set everything up. When they gave the signal, Max started to sing... but almost at once, it became apparent that something wasn't right. The session had to be stopped again and again when Max hit a bum note, sang the wrong words, or forgot the words entirely.
Over the past few days, Laura had begun to seriously suspect that something was very wrong with Max. The sunglasses had become a constant accessory, and he often slurred his words. He barely made it through his performances. When the paparazzi approached him for photographs, he lost his patience with them, and ordered them to go away - rather than posing happily as he had before.
It wasn't just the press, either. Max had also done something Laura had until then considered impossible - he'd turned on his fans. When they rushed up to him eagerly after gigs, begging for selfies and autographs, he ranted and raved at them, calling them leeches and vultures - breaking their hearts in the process.
Social media showed the response to Max's new rude attitude. One of Laura's duties was to keep a close eye on that side of things. Given his delicate temper, she hadn't dared tell Max that his follower numbers were falling day by day, and the comments made for harsh reading.
To think I respected him - what a b******d!
NEVER buying his music again!
WTF is wrong with him?!!
In the booth, Max hit yet another bum note. As the technicians stopped the session once more, their frustration was impossible to hide.
"Max, please - you need to focus."
"I'm doing my best!" Max snapped back. "What the hell do you want?"
"We're spending a lot of money on this session - "
"So?! I'm made of money! We can spend as much as we like!"
"We - we do have other artists coming in today..."
"Oh, please! Who out there is bigger than me?"
"Max - "
"No! Screw you, I'm talking!"
"That is enough!" Laura cried, jumping to her feet. "Everyone - take a break. Fifteen minutes. Calm yourselves down. Then we'll try again."
As the techies headed out to grab a drink, Max marched towards an armchair and threw himself down, reaching into his pocket to fish out his pill bottles. He now carried two or three different ones. Laura watched aghast as Max opened them one by one, and downed a handful of each medication. The musician noticed her stunned expression.
"What?!" he hissed. "They're all from a doctor!"
"Max - "
"I'm just upping my dose a little, that's all!"
"I'm... I'm just worried that they're doing you damage..." Laura stammered weakly.
Max rose to his full height and whipped his glasses off, staring Laura down intensively.
"What do you know about damage?" he challenged.
"I've had my fair share of problems," Laura replied firmly, standing her ground.
"You know nothing about what my life is like!"
"Then tell me, and I'll help you!"
"I don't need your help! The pills help! Don't you understand that?"
"Well, I -"
"No. Of course you don't. You don't understand anything, you fat b***h!"
Laura gasped, alarmed. Max himself froze, ashamed - his hand tenderly touching his lips, as if he couldn't believe the words that had just emerged from them. Sighing, he hung his head sadly.
"I... I'm so sorry," he whispered. "You... you didn't deserve that."
"No. I didn't."
"I know you're trying to help," Max continued. "It's just... it's getting so hard to cope with everything. Oscar wants me to record and perform even more, and baby Nathan is hardly sleeping..."
"I thought Katie had hired a nanny now that she's filming again?"
"Oh, she has, and she's great," Max explained. "It means I can go back to work, and Katie can focus on more important things."
"The trouble is, she only works in the daytime. At night, Nathan is my responsibility."
"Doesn't Katie help out?"
"She says she needs her beauty sleep. Understandable, really, given she's on TV all the time."
"I... I see."
Max sighed heavily.
"Look," Laura said after a moment's thought, putting her hands on Max's forearms in a gesture of support. "If things are getting on top of you, then you need to tell Oscar you need a break. And Katie has to know you need help with the baby. If you keep on grinding away like this, you're going to make yourself seriously ill."
"You... you really think Katie would be OK with that?"
"Of course. If she loves you, she'll understand."
"You're right," he said happily. "Thank you, Laura."
"You're welcome. And thank you for telling me how you feel."
"Well, you're my PA. I guess it's your job to help me out."
"It's not just that," Laura replied. "You're usually such an upbeat, happy guy, and lately, you're not. I just knew something was wrong. It's not just work. I... I care about you. I guess you could say - I consider you a friend."
As Max looked at her, his eyes widening, Laura suddenly felt nervous.
"Is... is that OK?" she asked.
"Of course it is!" Max replied. "I consider you a friend, too."
Smiling, Laura threw his arms around him, hugging him tightly. Max relaxed into her embrace, closing his eyes in bliss. It felt so nice. When had Katie last shown him affection like this?
"You should head home," Laura said kindly. "Get some real rest. I'll rearrange the session - don't worry about that. Just get well, and come back feeling refreshed."
"Thanks. I will."
As Max walked into the foyer of his mansion, there was no sign of Katie, Nathan or the nanny. The actress was no doubt filming somewhere, and perhaps the little one had been taken out for a walk in his buggy. Happy to have the house to himself, Max headed into the living room - making a great effort to resist the minibar's temptation - and sat down on the couch to watch some TV.
As he idly viewed a few music videos, almost nodding off, he sat up suddenly when he heard a noise coming from above him. Concerned, he slowly headed up the stairs, bracing himself to deal with whatever intruder might have trespassed on his property.
The strange sounds grew louder as he passed the bedroom. Now very afraid, Max slowly reached for the door handle and pulled it open in a sudden movement... gasping as a shocking sight met his eyes.
The legacy founder, Myron, has made an appearance in Operation Repopulation - a great 100 Baby Challenge by mojot89! Check it out!