"Hey there, Velociraptors!" Max cried chirpily, smiling into his smartphone camera lens. "Max here, and today, I have a real treat for you! You're going to get to see the inside of my Magic Bus!"
He whirled the phone around with glee, stopping every so often to point something out.
"So, this is my little kitchen and lounge area - you got the fridge right there, coffee maker there..."
As he panned right, Laura appeared in frame.
"... and my wife right there."
Laura laughed, embarrassed - raising her palm towards the camera
"Don't you go filming me!" she muttered.
"Oh, come on!" Max giggled. "Show that pretty face! You all love Mrs. Velocity - don't you, Velociraptors?"
"I really don't see why."
"Because they haven't forgotten - that's why."
In the week following the overdose, Max, now recovered and about to be released from hospital, decided to check into a rehab clinic. With Katie soon to be out of his life, and Laura hopefully coming even further into it, he wanted to clean himself up and get a fresh start - to kick his destructive habits once and for all. As tough as he knew it was going to be, he had to do this. For her. For his family. For his fans. And most importantly of all... for himself.
The first night was the hardest. As he lay secluded in his room, curled up on his bed, Max felt incredibly alone.
Withdrawal pains and cravings wracked through his body, but he knew he had to simply deal with them. Besides, even if he wanted to relieve them, there was nothing here he could do it with. He'd been thoroughly searched, and even stripped, on admission. As the hours passed, medical staff occasionally floated in - checking on him, making sure he was OK - but he longed for some real, loving company. Like his parents. Or Laura.
Dear God, how he missed Laura.
The days dragged on, and the side effects subsided. Max was ready to begin his real treatment: to explore his issues head-on, and to find ways of coping once he was back in the real world.
To begin with, he underwent therapy. It was difficult at first - lying there on a coach and opening up about everything that had happened with Katie with Oscar, how it had left him doubting himself and his worth. Later, though, Max found that it was good to have an outside person to talk to, who was non-judgemental and who offered sound advice and reassurance. It helped him find closure - made him realise that perhaps he didn't need substances to survive.
Once his mind was feeling better, Max turned his attention to his body. His days of excess had given him a bit of a beer belly, and he wanted to be in the best possible shape for when he relaunched his career. A few limit-pushing workouts at the gym had the desired effect - but on his therapist's advice, Max also explored combining bodily fitness with mental wellness, taking up yoga and meditation as part of his daily routine.
And of course, he had to be able to sing. In the early days of treatment, Max found his voice was strained, and he struggled to hold a tune that wasn't full of bum notes - just as he had at that disastrous recording session. But, as the treatment progressed and he began to feel better, his mighty, soul-shaking voice regained its full power... and soon, he could even hit notes he wasn't able to reach before.
Three months after his admission, the doctors declared that Max was now clean and healthy, and allowed him to leave. Right away, he headed back to the Miskin house, where he intended to remain for the rest of his life - excluding the occasional tour, of course.
As he stepped into the lounge, he was cheered by his parents and Laura, who had arranged a small surprise party to welcome him home. The room was filled with decorations, adorning everything in his signature colour. As Max spotted pink liquid flowing out a drink fountain, he hesitated... until Marlon spotted him and laughed.
"Just grape juice, my boy," he said. "Help yourself. Goodness, we wouldn't be that cruel."
As everyone mingled with one another - Max answering a stream of questions about how rehab had been, how he was feeling, what his plans were - Laura, stood in the corner, drink in hand, suddenly felt a tap on her shoulder... and found the musician stood before her sheepishly.
"I... I was wondering..." he began.
"Yes?" Laura prompted.
"Well - you don't, you know, have to, or anything, but..."
Smiling, Max reached into his inside waistcoat pocket, and produced a bright red rose.
"Would you... would you like to carry on from where we left off?" he asked politely. "Starting with a nice, romantic dinner for two? To say thank you - for everything?"
Blushing, Laura took the rose gently in her fingertips, shyly tucking her hair behind her ears.
"Oh, Max... I'd love to."
Marlon felt his heart swell with joy as he watched this exchange. Over the past weeks, with Max isolated from the world, Laura had been a regular visitor to the Miskin house - getting to know the old couple, helping them with chores, and generally being extremely kind and supportive. She even showed interest in the family history, often chatting with the journalist over a cup of tea as they leafed through albums and scrapbooks.
In contrast to the bitch Max was on the verge of ditching, Marlon absolutely adored his son's new lady friend... and was very keen on the idea of her staying in his life.
Positively beaming, he nudged Cassandra with his elbow as they sat side by side on the sofa.
"I've a feeling," he told her, "that things are going to be just fine."
Three nights later, as she was getting ready for the date in her flat, Laura tossed aside outfit after outfit from her wardrobe. Max was taking her to a five-star restaurant - a favourite of his parents, apparently - and the paparazzi were bound to be snooping about.
They weren't doing anything wrong - not really. Max and Katie's divorce suit had been put into motion, and given that the actress' unfaithfulness was public knowledge, it was likely to speed up the proceedings. The world seemed very much on Max's side. Katie, by all accounts, just wanted the whole horrid business over and done with: asking for nothing except custody of Nathan - which Max, naturally, had no objections to - and admitting blame. Hell, she'd even sent Laura's panties back to the Miskin house in the mail. In a velvet gift box and dry cleaned, no less.
All the same, as Max's new belle, Laura knew that many eyes would be upon her. She felt terribly nervous, believing nothing she could wear would give a good enough impression. As she threw herself onto her bed, groaning in frustration, she sat up suddenly when he heard her doorbell ring.
When she answered it, she found Cassandra standing there on the step, holding a large, gift-wrapped box, sealed with a ribbon bow.
"A little token of my appreciation," she explained, handing over the box. "Specially made. I still have connections in my old business. I thought you might like it for the date tonight. Please, open it... I'm dying to know what you think."
Curious, Laura pulled at the velvet ribbon, and lifted the box's lid - only to gasp at its contents, drop it on the floor, and pull Cassandra into a grateful hug.
Later, as Max sat in the restaurant foyer, twiddling his thumbs as he waited for his date, he heard the all-too-familiar mutterings of journalists and the clicking of cameras as the door opened - and a goddess stepped in. Her make-up was subtle but beautiful, and she donned the most stunning, elegant purple dress. Designer, without a doubt.
"So sorry I'm late," Laura told him. "Do... do you like the outfit?"
Max swallowed. He was so stunned, it took him a few moments to speak.
"You look exquisite," he replied.
"Good enough to be seen with you?" Laura asked.
"If anything, you're putting me to shame."
The dinner went extremely well for the couple, who enjoyed lobster thermidor accompanied by sparkling mineral water. (Despite now being teetotal himself, Max had offered to buy Laura a drink, but she wanted to show solidarity.) The next day, the papers were full of hastily snapped photos of the pair, accompanied by headlines such as "ROCKSTAR DINES OUT WITH HIS NEW DISH" and "NEW MUSE FOR MAX VELOCITY". To Laura's surprise, most of the write-ups were very complimentary about her - which Max said she should have expected, since she truly was beautiful.
Time went on, and the divorce was finalised. In the aftermath of Max's brush with death and the revelations it had brought, Katie turned to Oscar: the one person in this world who still supported her. She escaped the vulture-like journalists by secluding herself and her son in the agent's house over in Newcrest - where the three lived happily for several months.
Oscar essentially filled the gap Max had left by doting on Nathan completely - the child having inherited the actress' beauty - as Katie desperately tried to rebuild her career.
After several knockbacks, Katie was finally given a chance by Joel, a young movie producer, up and coming in Hollywood - who, following her audition, invited her out for a drink.
Two weeks later, Oscar - who had taken Nathan out to the park - returned home to an empty house. A note had been left on the kitchen table.
I'm moving in with Joel. He says he's going to put me in his new blockbuster, and from there, who knows? Yes, you and I have had fun together, but he's offering me things you can't.
You can keep Nathan. I can't really be in movies and be a single mum at the same time. I know you'll raise him right: you've been doing a great job. I'll send support money once the cheques start coming in.
Don't call me - I'll be far too busy to answer.
Thanks for everything, etc. Ciao, darling.
The agent was heartbroken, but he knew instantly that he had to focus on something far more important than his love life: the wellbeing of his son. He, too, had received his fair share of vitriol from the press, but Nathan was innocent in all of this, and Oscar longed to shield him from all the anger and blame being thrown around.
In stark contrast to Katie, Oscar wasn't keen on leaving his child to be raised by hired help. So, he took a sabbatical from work, and became a full-time father: aspiring to give Nathan a happy, stable home life following all the confusion he had witnessed in the previous months.
One night, as he was tucking Nathan into bed, the infant seemed confused - looking around the room for someone.
"Where Mama?" the boy asked.
"She... she had to go away for a while," Oscar replied. "But don't worry. Daddy's here - and I'm never going to leave you. That's a promise."
"Yes. Always. Now... are you ready for a story?"
Nathan nodded, and Oscar reached for the volume of fairy tales by the side of the bed.
He read out the tale of "Jack and the Beanstalk" - Nathan's favourite, a fact Katie never would have bothered to find out - until the boy yawned and closed his eyes, snuggling into his pillow.
Tucking him in, Oscar gently stroked his golden, cherbub-esque curls.
"You and me against the world, little one," he whispered, planting a soft kiss on Nathan's brow, and turning out the light.
Whilst the agent's romance was dying out, Max and Laura's went from strength to strength. As the months progressed, the pair spent more and more time together - whether it was going for a evening stroll under the stars...
... or simply spending some quality time together at the Miskin house.
Max's first marriage had taught him two very important lessons. The first of these was that he shouldn't rush things. You needed time to really get to know a person... to make absolutely sure they were right for you before you made any major commitments. However, a year into his and Laura's courtship, Max found that he simply couldn't wait a moment longer. He was utterly convinced that, this time, he really had found the love of his life.
Thus, one afternoon, as he and his beloved shared a lakeside picnic under a shining hot sun, Max dropped down onto one knee, and popped that most important of questions - a proposal that Laura, overjoyed, accepted without a second thought.
The second lesson Max had learnt was that a wedding wasn't just a photo opportunity. It was a special day that, if carried out with the right intentions, marked the merging of two souls: the forming of an eternal bond of love. Whilst discussing the arrangements, both bride and groom strongly expressed a preference for a private ceremony, not an overstaged event for the press that reeked of fake romance.
As the couple tried to settle on the perfect secluded venue, a brainwave came to Max, and he suggested the place where he and Laura had first met... where they had experienced so much together. Somewhere with lockable doors and tinted windows, which they could set up anywhere.
So, a mere three days after getting engaged, Max parked his tour bus on the Miskins' lawn, bid his parents - the witnesses, and the only guests - to climb aboard, and exchanged rings and vows with his sweetheart away from prying eyes. It was a small and simple ceremony, true - but for the new Mr. and Mrs. Miskin, it was totally perfect. The ideal start to what was to become a long and happy marriage.
Given that he had spent quite a lot of time away from the stage and recording studio, the still-devoted fans of Max Velocity were very keen to see and hear from him once more. Max was torn about returning to work so soon after his nuptials, but Laura calmed his nerves by suggesting a world tour could double as the couple's extended honeymoon.
It was a solution that pleased everyone - especially the rockstar. Still, as he performed to sold-out arenas around the globe, he always made sure to have at least a couple of days off in each city he visited: to keep his stress levels low, and to spend some quality time with his wife... meaning that somewhere between Champs les Sims and Takemizu Village, the tenth and final heir to the Miskin Legacy came into existence.
Back on the tour bus, Laura was still feeling very camera-shy - her hands now attempting to hide her large, rounded belly as she turned her back to Max's smartphone.
"I don't want my massive tummy on that website of yours!" she snapped. "It's embarrassing!"
"Why? What is there to be embarrassed about?" Max asked, putting his phone away, and reaching out to touch Laura's prominent baby bump. "I'm very proud of it, and of you - my beautiful mummy-to-be. It's my little princess in there, and I can't wait to meet her."
Laura smiled, placing her hands over her husband's.
"I know," she said. "Still, all the same, now might not be the best time to be running around here like a headless chicken, babbling away. He's asleep. I've just put him down for a nap."
"Oh!" Max gasped, immediately lowering his voice. "Sorry. I didn't realise."
"It's OK," Laura answered. "He was tuckered out, poor thing. He's been playing with his little invisible friend all morning."
"Mind if I go check in on him?"
"Of course not!" Laura giggled. "After all... he's your son."
In the bedroom at the rear of the bus, a toddler in a white outfit lay atop the sheets of his small wooden bed, curled up in a ball on his pillow - his mind filled with happy dreams of candy and colourful worlds, as his best friend faithfully stood watch over him.
This companion was a bizarre, lively infant with pale blue skin - a figure that only the sleeping toddler could ever see or hear. He had come into his life a few months ago, and was now a constant presence. This being had no need of food or sleep, which was a good thing, as he couldn't touch or interact with anything around him: his existence akin to that of a phantom.
Although the toddler's family couldn't see this friend of his, they could tell by the child's attempt to talk and play with him that he was there. It didn't worry them: after all, many boys and girls had an imaginary friend at some point growing up. One day, Max, curious, had asked his son what his little friend's name was. The child, not yet able to speak in complex sentences, offered a string of broken syllables in reply.
"Oh, I see!" Max had answered playfully. "So his name is 'Jackdory Knickerbocker Glory'?"
And from then on, so it was.
As the bedroom door creaked open, the toddler stirred in his slumber, and sat up. Rubbing his eyes with a pudgy balled-up fist, he looked towards the foot of the bed, and smiled when he saw a familiar face looking down at him.
"Hello, Mally," Max said.
At once, Malcolm Miskin - or "Mally", as he was indeed known - babbled excitedly, reaching out for his father.
As Max pulled the boy up into his arms, hugging him tightly, he swore he could hear joyful music flowing into his brain from the cosy warmth of his heart.
It was far better than anything he could ever play.
THUS ENDS GENERATION NINE
And with that, we enter our final Miskin generation! Eek!
Readers are forewarned that I am taking an "anything goes" approach with this last storyline - to have some fun before it's all over. Mally's career will be a throwback to Myron's, so prepare yourselves for some wacky, wild, sci-fi fun. Jackdory Knickerbocker Glory is just the beginning! (I miss the Imaginary Friend life state.)
Thank you all for your support up to this point. It is much treasured and appreciated!