It was a warm, sunny morning. Another perfect day in Paradise.
As Nimue and Bonnie strolled across the wooden deck in their swimsuits, climbing into the hot tub to relax and chat, Mitch leaned forward in his lounge chair - grinning as his eyes followed the pair, watching them pass by with some interest.
"Hey!" hissed Clyde, sat in the chair beside him. "Keep yer eyes off my missus!"
Scoffing, Mitch turned to him.
"First of all," he said, "I was looking at my wife. And second of all, anyone ever told you what men in glass houses shouldn't do?"
Clyde smiled, leaning back in his chair.
"Touché. Yer never gonna let that go, are yer?"
"Give it a few more centuries."
Over on a nearby massage table, Theo was letting out soft, low groans as his dearest Mo rubbed his hands over his body: the movements soothing, but the touch of his lover stirring his blood.
When Mo announced he was finished, Theo climbed up onto his elbows, and grabbed his husband's hand, pulling him down with a mischievous smile in order to whisper into his ear. Chuckling, Mo swooped Theo into his arms, and carried him off to the sauna as fast as his feet would allow him to. Clyde, seeing them pass, shook his head lightheartedly.
"Brace yerself," he told Mitch. "They're at it again."
And sure enough, within a few minutes, unmistakable noises began to leak out from behind the sauna's wooden walls.
"They just can't keep their hands off each other, can they?" Mitch asked Clyde.
"I can't judge the lad," Clyde replied. "Ol' Thacker libido, son. We know what we like. And it's nuffin' me and Bonnie 'aven't done. You and Nimue ever tried it in there?"
"You should. It's bloody amazin'. Just pop yer wedding rings off first. You don't want anyone gettin' scolded."
"I just wish they'd keep it down a little."
"Oh, leave 'em be! We can put up with a little noise, right?"
The moment he finished the sentence, a deafening, cacophonous chord rang across the landscape in an almighty wave of vibration: causing the ladies the scream, the lovers to stop, Clyde to wince, and Mitch to throw his hands over his ears.
"What in holy hell was that?!"
In his bright pink fortress of harmony (otherwise known as his bedroom), twenty-one year-old Maxwell Miskin threw back his head as his hands rapidly strummed the strings of his electric guitar: relishing the top volume sounds emerging from the amp, the photograph of his great-great-great-grandmother smiling down on him from the wall.
From the earliest days of his childhood, Max had adored music. At school, he'd never been the best academically, managing average grades, but Music classes would reveal a great singing voice, and he had proved himself quite adept with various instruments. With his parents' blessing, he was privately tutored in piano and violin, and now could play both fairly well, as well as receiving ongoing lessons in vocal control. However, it was a much-longed-for guitar given to him on his fifteenth birthday that had revealed his true talent and passion, and within two years, he had mastered it: still practising faithfully day in, day out.
Now all grown up, Max was a tall, slender young man, with beautiful dark skin: a blend of his Greek and Afro-Caribbean heritages. His long, flowing raven locks had pretty much become an entity in itself: unmanageable, and forever messed up in that strangely stylish way. Indeed, his hair had very much become a part of him, with veritable carpets of the stuff covering his body, and a mixture of beard and five-o-clock shadow forever gracing his chin.
As he continued to rock out, singing as loudly as his lungs would allow him to, Max used the music he was making to relax himself, and to steel his nerves.
'Today,' he thought, 'will be the day that changes my life forever.'
He stopped suddenly as he heard the door slam against the wall.
'Well... if my dad doesn't kill me first.'
After a moment or two of staring his son down from the doorway, the scowling Marlon, clad in his pyjamas, marched into Max's room - the young musician instinctively trying to hide his guitar behind his back like a naughty child.
"Boy," Marlon began, with an unnerving calmness, "it is 8 'o clock in the morning. Your mother and I would like to get some sleep on our day off. Can you kindly tell me what possessed you to transform our house into the Glastonbury festival at this God-forsaken hour?"
"Dad!" Max replied. "Look, I know it's early, but I really need to practise right now."
"And why is that?"
"Because of my audition."
"Audition?" asked Marlon, his eyebrows rising up.
Reaching into his jean pocket, Max fished out a folded piece of paper and handed it over. Marlon opened it up, and saw it was an advertisement for open auditions at the Willow Creek Arts Centre later that morning.
"The judge is Oscar Powers," Max added. "He's a agent."
"I've heard his name before."
"He's a real big shot. Has a hand in everything - music, TV, films, you name it. He's going to offer a contract to whoever impresses him the most, along with 10,000 Simoleons in prize money."
"And you're going to perform for him today?"
"I've had my name down for weeks. I've even made my own outfit."
Marlon looked worried as he re-read the flyer.
"I... I'm not sure about this, son..."
Max seized hold of his hands in a gesture of supplication.
"Please, Dad!" he begged. "I want this. This is all I've ever wanted. Yes, I know I'm young, and yes, I might be thrown out on my ear... but at least I'll have taken the chance."
Seeing the longing in Max's eyes, Marlon sighed, and relented.
"All right, Max," he said. "If you want to go for it, then I wish you the best of luck. Although, I doubt you'll need it. You have real talent."
"You really think so?"
"I know so. Trust me. You'll knock that Powers fellow for six."
Grinning, Max threw his arms around his father, hugging him tightly.
"Thank you, Dad!" he cried, delighted.
"Just promise me one thing, boy."
"Sure, Dad. What is it?"
"If you win that prize money..."
"Buy me and your mum some damn earplugs."
Various well-wishes and two bus rides later, Max found himself clutching the sink in the Arts Centre bathroom, drawing in deep breaths in a desperate attempt to calm himself. In the past, he'd played at school shows, family events, that sort of thing... but never anything like this. Was he really ready? Was he good enough?
Along with his guitar, Max had dragged a pink suitcase all the way from the Miskin house to here. Inside it was everything he had prepared for this very moment. As he lifted it onto the counter, he peeked at its tag to reassure himself. Inside the small square of leather was his name, and yet another picture of Zara van Halen - one of her small publicity stills from her touring days with Neon Dreams.
Max cupped it carefully in his hands, looking at it with great love.
Ever since that faithful day he had learnt about her from his father at the café, Zara had become his icon and his heroine. She was someone unafraid to proudly be herself, and to break the moulds set out by society.
Over time, given that Miranda and her band had never quite hit the big leagues, Zara's name had become forgotten amongst musical circles. But it was never forgotten by Max. Aside from gender - Max knew in his heart that he was very much male - Zara represented everything he wanted to be, and he was determined to succeed as a musician to honour her memory.
"For you, Grandma Zara," he whispered.
Picking up the case, he scuttled into one of the toilet cubicles to change.
He entered as the nervous, subtly-attired Maxwell Miskin.
He emerged as a rock god.
Clad from head to toe in his (and Zara's) signature colour, Max's performance outfit consisted of a skintight, sparkling sequin suit, unbuttoned near the neck - his downy mat of chest hair on display for all to see. His buckled platform boots added inches to his height, and as he strolled across the linoleum in them, Max's confidence grew. He felt like a mighty conqueror claiming his kingdom - a feeling that was only heightened by the long cape hanging from his shoulders. The final touch were streaks of pink makeup across his cheeks: the warpaint of a rock warrior.
As he beheld himself in the bathroom mirror, Max burst out laughing.
"My God!" he gasped, stroking his face and clothing. "Is that really me?"
It wasn't the sort of thing you'd wear when you went to meet a friend for coffee. Max knew that, and that had been far from his intention. Back in his schooldays, his careers adviser had once told him, "Dress for the job you want." If Max wanted to be a rock star, he had to look the part.
Seeing himself like this made Max feel as proud as a peacock. As he puffed out his chest, posing in front of the glass, he felt as if he'd unlock some secret part of himself. This version of him was ready to march onto that stage and grab his dreams with both hands. He felt powerful, confident... and, he couldn't deny it... sexy.
The sound of someone outside calling his name dragged Max violently back into reality.
This was it. Make or break. After a few more deep breaths, Max tightened his grasp on his guitar, grabbed his suitcase, and went to face his fate.
Behind his desk in the audition hall, Oscar Powers sighed heavily - taking off his glasses to pinch his nose. It was getting late in the day, and he had yet to see one act that truly impressed him. It seemed all the talent Willow Creek had to offer was mediocre at best. He was rapidly running out of patience.
Still, this next act - Maxwell Miskin - was the last on the list. After this, he could head home and relax. He was tempted to just call it quits and leave early, but according to a member of the centre staff, the young man had arrived very early, and patiently waited for his turn all day. Oscar knew simply wouldn't be fair to not give him at least a few minutes of his time.
"Send him in!" he shouted.
Two seconds later, Oscar's eyes widened as a bizarre, dishevelled-looking and very pink figure slowly strolled across the stage, guitar in hand. After setting down his little suitcase beside a speaker, he stood statue-like in front of the microphone - doing his best to look the agent in the face.
"Are you Maxwell?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," came the meek response.
"Great. What are you going to do for me today?"
"I'd... I'd like to perform some music for you."
"Wonderful. In your own time."
Stepping back, Max raised his guitar, and started to strum with vigour - with amazing shreds and riffs to swiftly follow.
From the very first notes, Max had Oscar's full attention. The music wasn't just loud - it was mighty. Electrifying. Fortifying. Something about it stirred you within the very bottom of your soul. As Max leaned towards the mic and started singing, his strong, soulful voice was the perfect compliment to the instrumentals - and as Oscar watched him perform, it became apparent that he had undeniable charisma as well as talent.
As the wondrous melodies drifted outwards, a few members of centre staff slowly ventured into the hall to see what was going on - and immediately fell in love with what they heard and saw. Technically, this was meant to be a private audition, but Oscar did nothing to stop them. He fully understood how Max's amazing voice and music had drawn them in, like a rocking Pied Piper.
Seeing that a small crowd had begun to gather, Max - stunned, but flattered - decided it was time to up the ante. His confidence skyrocketing, he strutted up and down the stage like he owned it, still managing to play and sing perfectly: smiling at the crowd, and eventually, risking a cheeky, sensual gyration of his hips.
The women in the audience (as well as a few of the men) instantly began to scream and wail. Everything about this man screamed "sex" - his mystical music, his gorgeous looks, even his hair... and not just the locks hanging from his head, either.
"Oh my God!"
"Who is he?!"
"I don't know, but he is to die for!"
As Max brought the performance to its climax, the crowd cheered and begged for more... and one poor lady had to be led out with what doctors would later call "a severe case of swooning".
As Oscar rose to his feet, all fell silent and still. His song over, Max went and stood by the mic like a criminal awaiting judgement, whilst everyone else stared at the agent, awaiting his response with baited breath.
Slowly, the agent brought his hands together in thunderous applause, beaming at Max. The crowd swiftly followed suit until the noise was deafening.
"That's it!" Oscar cried over the hullabaloo. "You're just what I'm looking for, my boy!"
Rushing up to the stage, he grabbed Max's hand, and shook it vigorously.
"Oscar Powers," he said hurriedly. "It's a pleasure to meet you. Young man, it has been years since I've seen or heard anyone with your level of talent. I simply must have you on my books. The money and the contract are yours. Congratulations."
Max gasped, his hands flying to his mouth as tears began to form in his eyes.
"Really?!" he cried, overjoyed. "You mean it?!"
"Absolutely," Oscar said, gesturing around the hall. "Just listen to that! The crowd loves you!"
For the first time, Max became fully aware of the crowd's admiration - several pairs of eyes all gazing up at him, clapping their hands like greedy seals. As he humbly waved to them in a gesture of gratitude, even more passionate screams rose up from their ranks.
"What was your name again?" Oscar asked. "Maxwell?"
"Yes, sir. Maxwell Miskin. But everyone calls me "Max."
Oscar stroked his chin in careful thought.
"The "Max" part I like," he said after a few moments. "It sounds - extreme. Powerful. But "Miskin"... no. I'm sorry. It'll have to go."
"Go?" Max asked. "Why?"
"Oh, don't get me wrong, it's a lovely name..."
"It's - it's ancestral, actually. Noble, in fact."
"... but it just doesn't suit your persona," Oscar explained. ""Miskin" sounds too... timid. Gentle. It's wrong for what you are. It's a whimper, when what you need is a bang. Don't be too downhearted: lots of stars use a stage name. Your music has the power to take people on a roller coaster ride, my boy. When they hear it, they'll feel like they're travelling at break-neck pace, at top speed, at... at..."
He snapped his fingers as inspiration struck. Grinning, he lay a hand on the musician's shoulder.
Monday, 27 November 2017
Friday, 24 November 2017
"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!