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.