Seasons came and went, and both of the adolescent Miskins blossomed into full adulthood, like flowers reaching the epitome of their beauty.
Mally continued to channel all of his energy and efforts into improving his intellect. After completing high school, he moved on to college and university, gaining a dual-subject degree, followed by a doctorate. Taking note of his exceptionally high marks, and realising he was brimming with potential, Mally was snapped up after his graduation by the senior scientists at Willow Creek Labs, and soon built a successful career around analysing chemicals and cobbling together inventions.
His work didn't end when he clocked off at 5pm, either. Passionate about his research - his life's work - he had pleaded with his father to use some of the Miskin family fortune, along with his own earnings, to build a private laboratory in the basement of the house. Science, he had said, meant to him what music meant to Max.
Understanding this sense of devotion, and proud of his son's achievements, Max granted Mally his wish... and the young scientist now spent almost every free moment of the day continuing his experiments and concocting his theories in his large underground lair of learning. Most of the time, he was so wrapped up in striving for some scientific breakthrough, he forgot about appointments, was regularly late for work, and neglected chores he had to do. In fact, Jackdory - still Mally's constant companion - often had to remind him just to eat and sleep.
In regards to his social life, Mally remained as withdrawn and isolated as ever... but despite what his relatives suspected, this hadn't been for want of trying. One memory haunted the young man's nightmares, still flooding him with embarrassment long after the event had passed.
The girl in the university library.
A Thursday afternoon in October. The first semester of his undergraduate degree. Mally was in the middle of a six-hour research stint, gathering evidence to reference in his next assignment... which wasn't due for another month.
Jackdory, meanwhile, took little interest in his friend's studies, choosing instead to hover by the bookshelves... hoping that A Brief History of Time might be available in graphic novel form.
Suddenly, Mally's head popped up like a meerkat's as he heard a clattering sound breaking the heavy, reverence silence around him.
Turning around sharply - feeling a bit miffed at the interruption - his eyes widened as he saw the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. He'd always had a thing for redheads. She was looking at him with an embarrassed smile as she leaned down to pick up her dropped chess piece.
"Sorry," she said softly, her voice melodic like an angel's. "It just slipped through my fingers."
"Oh... don't - don't worry about it," Mally stammered back suddenly feeling very hot under the collar. "A-Accidents happen."
One of the young lady's eyebrows shot up quizzically as she contemplated her newfound companion. Intrigued, she stepped away from the chess table, and began to approach him.
"I think I've seen you in here before," she said. "Quite a few times, in fact. Do you live in here, or something?"
"Pretty much!" Mally replied, laughing. "You reap what you sow, after all. If I want to get a PhD, I'll need a good BSc to get me on the right track."
"Oh, you're doing a Science degree?"
"Astrophysics and Chemistry."
"Cool. Mine's in Biology. I'm Farrah, by the way."
"Mally. Nice to meet you."
Looking over, Jackdory suddenly took great interest in the proceedings... and developed a grin a mile wide as Mally moved closer toward the bookshelf, and more importantly, his new lady friend.
Farrah giggled as Mally let out an exhausted yawn.
"Gee, you really have been burning the candle at both ends, haven't you?" she said kindly. "Maybe you should take a break."
Before Mally had a chance to respond, he turned away from Farrah as he heard a cheer from behind him, and noticed an ecstatic Jackdory fist-pumping gleefully.
"Yes!" the blue figure cried. "This is your chance, Mally! Ask her out! Go on!"
"Quiet!" Mally hissed back. "Let me handle this!"
"What was that?" asked Farrah, concerned.
"Oh - nothing!" Mally replied. "Just... just clearing my throat."
He broke out into a forced coughing fit - his acting ability extremely weak compared to his scientific prowess. Still, it was enough to convince his new companion.
"Are you OK?" she asked, alarmed.
"Yes, yes, I'm fine," Mally replied coolly, tapping his chest. "Just dust from the old textbooks."
"Well, maybe a drink would help," Farrah answered. "There's a coffee shop five minutes from here. Perhaps... you and I could... well..."
"Oh, this is brilliant!" cried Jackdory in delight. "She's doing the hard work for you! You've got to let me come along - I'm not letting you finish that latte without her number!"
"Will you shut up?" Mally snapped in annoyance, determined to develop this budding bond without outside assistance.
Jackdory, shocked, instantly fell silent. However, Mally turned back in horror as he heard Farrah gasping, her eyes narrowing.
"Well!" she muttered. "There's no need to be so rude! I was only inviting you out for a coffee!"
"What?" Mally gasped. "No! Wait! I wasn't - "
"You think you're so great just because of you're some kind of genius!" Farrah hissed. "Well, I'm sorry to have disturbed your precious research! I'll just leave you to it, then!"
Tutting, she turned sharply on her heel, and stormed off towards the periodicals.
Mally, too shocked to say anything, simply stood there on the spot, dejected - watching her walk out of his life forever. Then, he sighed, and headed back to his computer. To his work. The one thing that he knew he could devote himself to.
As he tapped the keys frantically - using more vigour than before as he tried desperately to release his frustration - he became aware of Jackdory walking up behind him, hovering guiltily by his shoulder.
"Oh, well," Jackdory said, forcing himself to smile. "Plenty more fish in the sea, eh? At least you know I'll always be here for you."
Mally said nothing. He didn't need to. Both young men knew that was true.
And both young men knew that was a problem.
Following that mortifying incident, Mally decided not to go looking for love again. As the last of a legacy, and not requiring an heir, any ticking of his biological clock wasn't really an issue.
Besides, he had other, more important goals to complete first.
"He's your brother," Laura told Morgan firmly. As Mally worked away several feet below them, mother and daughter were having a heart-to-heart in the kitchen. "He's family. I really think you should invite him to your housewarming party on Friday. You know he never goes out... he has no friends, except that bloody imaginary one he can't let go of. This might be the chance he needs to make some - to meet real people, to boost his confidence."
"I... I really don't think that's a good idea..."
"Why not? Are you worried he might embarrass you in front of all your friends at your nice new flat? Mally's not got the best grasp on social interactions, I grant you, but he'd never want to show you up on purpose. He loves you."
"Oh no, it's nothing like that," Morgan replied. "It's just, well - there's just no point. He wouldn't want to come. He hates parties, and you know it. Besides, even if he did want to come, and I did invite him, he'd just get caught up playing with his chemistry set or something, and forget all about it."
"I'm sure he wouldn't."
"He missed Dad getting his Lifetime Achievement award from the record label last week."
Laura paused and pondered for a moment. Yes - Mally had missed that. Lunches and little appointments were one thing, but something so important to the family was another. He'd claimed he was right on the verge of completing his first major invention - he simply couldn't tear himself away.
Max had taken his absence quite badly: some sharp words had been exchanged between the men of the house. Once things had simmered down, Mally had apologised, and Max accepted it, but at the end of the day, despite his genius, Mally couldn't turn back time. As he carried on working for longer and longer each day, it seemed likely this kind of thing was going to happen more often, rather than less.
"Well," Laura said, after weighing everything up carefully, "perhaps this is the chance your brother needs to prove himself: to help him realise he should pull himself away from the lab if something better comes up. I... I worry about him. God knows he needs to learn to live every now and then..."
She fell silent as the kitchen door swung open, and Mally shuffled in, making a beeline for the fridge. As his eyes frantically scanned the shelves within, he paid little attention to what was happening around him: clearly, this was just a quick excursion for provisions, rather than a social call.
"Don't mind me," he said bluntly. "Just grabbing a drink."
Smiling, Laura looked at Morgan.
"Go on," she whispered. "He won't stay put for long. It's now or never."
"Do it for me, honey," Laura pleaded. "Please."
Sensing her mother's desperation, Morgan sighed, and nodded - shifting in her chair in order to face Mally.
"Hey, bro?" she called. "Come here a minute. I want to talk to you."
Closing the fridge door, a glass of orange juice in hand, Mally stepped towards the dining table in confusion, taking a seat next to his sister.
"Well, you know I moved into my new flat last week?"
"I... I was thinking of having a little get-together there on Friday night. Like a housewarming party. I was wondering if... if you'd like to come?"
Mally's face grew pale. He hesitated to give an answer, tapping his hands on the oak surface nervously.
"Well," he sighed, after a few moments of awkward silence, "I appreciate the offer, but I'm - "
He cut himself off as he spotted his mother staring at him from across the table: the wide smile on her face contrasted by the glimmer of desperation in her eyes.
"I really think you should go, Mally, sweetie," she said. "It's only one night. You've been working ever so hard recently - you barely come out of that lab. It'll do you some good to have a change of scenery. Besides, it'd be pretty rude to turn down an invitation from your own sister, now, wouldn't it?"
As Mally heard these words, he knew instantly that arguing was pointless. He'd just have to push himself extra hard over the next few days to get his planned project finished in time.
"OK," he replied as he rose from the table. "I'll see you Friday. What time?"
"7pm," Morgan answered. "Promise me you'll be there."
"I promise," Mally answered. "Cross my heart."
Glass still in hand, Mally headed out into the living room, then walked down the stairs back to his basement lab. As Laura got up to make herself and her daughter some tea, Morgan stayed seated at the table, deep in thought.
She really hoped her brother wouldn't let her down.
At 6pm that Friday, Jackdory stood in Mally's lab, staring furiously at the clock on the wall. Mally himself was busy tinkering with some strange contraption he'd been putting together: a tall, silvery-coloured cabinet, rather like some high-tech shower. He'd been utterly devoted to its construction in recent months - and he showed no signs of stopping any time soon.
Did he even realise what time it was?
Groaning in frustration, Jackdory marched up to him.
"Shouldn't you be getting ready?" he muttered.
"Ready for what?" Mally asked absently.
"Your sister's party," Jackdory hissed back. "You know - the one you promised you'd go to."
"Oh... that," Mally replied in an awkward tone, before looking closely at the cabinet. "I... I'm just so close to finishing this. I... I just need about another half-hour -"
"I see," said Jackdory gruffly. "So some contraption of yours is more important to you than your family."
Mally chose not to dignify that comment with a response, and just carried on tinkering as Jackdory turned away.
"Then again," the wondrous figure muttered under his breath, "you're not exactly the kind of person who keeps your promises."
Mally, horrified, put his tools to one side, and glared at him.
"And just what is that supposed to mean?" he asked, the hurt in his voice clear.
"Do you remember back when we were teens?" Jackdory snapped. "You promised me that, one day, when you were a great scientist, you'd find a way to make me human."
"Of course I remember!"
"Well, five years have passed since you got your fancy doctorate," Jackdory went on. "You can split atoms and brew all sorts of fancy elixirs, but not once have you even attempted to do what you'd said you'd do."
"That," Mally said in low tones, "is a lie."
"All right then!" Jackdory challenged. "If it's a lie, then where is it? Where's that weird potion or big fancy machine of yours that's going to grant my greatest wish?"
"Jackdory," Mally said firmly. "Open your eyes."
Puzzled, Jackdory grew quiet, looking at Mally with incomprehension. It was only when the scientist smiled and nodded towards the cabinet that the penny finally dropped.
"That?" Jackdory asked in awe. "That's what you've been working on non-stop for so long?"
Mally reached into his inner lab coat pocket, and took out a swab.
"I've been collecting DNA samples for the last year," he explained. "We've always got plenty of volunteers at the lab. The plan is, this machine will use all of that genetic information to create new DNA completely unique to yourself, giving you a physical, individual body."
"So, I'll really be human? After all of these years, I'll finally be... ?"
Jackdory sniffed, wiping away tears that had sprung to his eyes.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you," Mally went on. "I had two reasons. First of all, I was worried that, if you knew, you'd nag me to try it before I felt it was really ready. There's risks we have to consider. Secondly... well, I thought it might be nice to surprise you."
"You've certainly done that," Jackdory replied breathlessly. "Mally... oh, Mally, my best friend in the world... I'm so, so sorry..."
"It's all right," Mally said kindly. "I understand. I know how much you care about Morgan - you were just thinking of her. And don't worry - I intend to keep my other promise, too. I'm sure we have time. Just give me half an hour to finish this, and then, not only will I be going to her party..."
He turned to his oldest and only friend with a grin.
"... but you'll be coming with me. Only this time, everyone will know you're there."