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Flight of the Tannens

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Biff was already awake when his alarm clock started buzzing. Blinking once but otherwise unmoving, he slowly raised one arm and flipped the switch to silence it. He stared at the ceiling a moment more before taking a deep breath, tossing off the blanket and swinging his legs over the side of the bed. Removed from the warm fuzz of his bedding, the morning air felt crisp against his skin. Too crisp. Shaking the last cobwebs from his mind, he rose and stepped into the hallway. Pots and pans clanged in the kitchen. A voice rang out over the sound

“Daddy, there’s something wrong with the bathroom sink!”

He nodded and mumbled something through a yawn before shutting the bathroom door behind him. But between a shower, his morning business and marveling at how much higher his hairline seemed to be compared to last week, the warning went forgotten. As soon as he turned the knob, a jet of water shot straight into his face. He quickly turned the knob the other way, but he was already soaked, and splashes of water clung to the wallpaper behind him, threatening to send it sloughing to the floor. Grumbling, he wiped the water from eyes and stomped to the kitchen, where he grabbed the toolbox from under the sink.

“Breakfast is almost ready,” his daughter Tiffany said as he passed.

“Be out in a minute.”

After fixing the sink and changing his clothes again, he sat down at the breakfast table. The repair had taken longer than expected — and he couldn’t help but dig through his closet, and even the pile of dirty clothes, in the hopes that something other than the green track suit he was currently wearing would be suitable, but nothing else worked. It was all too small, too worn, or just plain too dirty.

So he looked like an idiot, and he was running late, but by god, he was going to get a good breakfast out of the deal. That was one of the virtues of working for McFly.

Sure, everything else about it sucked eggs, but he could always count on George and Lorraine ambling down the block to the tennis courts in their poshy posh neighborhood and their no-good kids not rolling out of bed and leaving for work until 10 a.m. or later. Plenty of time to eat, get there and detail their cars.

Tiffany sat a plate down in front of him.

“Baby, what’s this?” he said at the plate. “You know I hate sausage.”

“Talk to Grammy,” she answered. “She’s the one who keeps bringing it.”

Biff sighed as he tucked into his meal.

Grammy. He’d gone to his grandmother a couple months ago. His business was doing okay, but he knew there was work he was missing out on. With just a little extra funds, he could hire a second guy and get some decals made so that guy could use his own truck on jobs and still advertise for the business. It’d be way cheaper than hiring a guy and buying a second vehicle for him.

She’d balked at the investment, saying he had to prove his business on his own, but every week since, she’d been dropping food by the house, like he was some mook who couldn’t provide for his daughter. He tried to be grateful. After all, she’d raised him after his own mom bailed, and babysat for Tiff while he worked as the night janitor at Hill Valley High after her mom bailed when she was five.

But still. After 46 years, she should know he hated sausage.

“Are you going to the McFly house today?” Tiff asked as she joined him at the table.

“Mmhmm,” Biff said around a mouthful of toast. The toast was good, the eggs were great, and the coffee, as always, was piping hot and just the way he liked it. “Why?”

“No reason,” she answered. There was a silence between them that was filled only by the scraping of butter across her toast. “Say hi to Marty for me.”

Marty. The kid was okay, certainly less of a pill than his old man, but there wasn’t a snowball’s chance anyone from that neighborhood would give anyone from his the time of day. But Tiffy had a little crush, and he couldn’t bear to break her heart.

“Sure thing,” he said as he downed the rest of his coffee and kissed her on the head and grabbed his shoes. “I'm outta time; you have any homework?”

“Just need to interview someone for my English project.”

“Did you decide who to write about?” he asked as he tied the laces on one shoe and brought the other foot up to the seat of his chair.

“I thought I’d talk to Doctor Brown.”

“Doc Brown? That old kook downtown?”

“Daddy, he’s a scientist! He invents things!”

“And I’m sure it has nothing to do with Marty McFly hanging around his place all the time?”

“No!” she said. “I want to be a scientist.”

“You know, honey,” he said gently. “We’re a family of mechanics and jailbirds. Science … it’s a nice dream, but I don’t know that it’s in our cards.”

“That’s just because you don’t believe,” she said as she rounded the table and handed him his lunch pail. “Mechanics and science have a lot in common. Just think, a mechanic could invent a flying car and clear all the congestion on the roads, making for fewer wrecks and cheaper health care when less people get hurt.”

“And suddenly everyone needs a pilot’s license to get to work.”

“Okay,” she said as she followed him to his truck. “What about a car that uses water for fuel? We don’t have to dig for oil anymore and there’s less pollution.”

Biff stuck his key in the ignition and paused. He turned over the engine with a smile.

“Tiffy, you build a car that runs on water, and I’ll service every one of ‘em.”

“Daddy, you really think it could work?”

“It’s a big ocean, baby,”he said as he leaned through the window and kissed her one more time, “but maybe have a backup plan for your interview.”

He watched her in the mirror as he drove away. She was so much smarter than he was. He barely finished high school didn’t even know he’d looked like a damn fool butchering “Make like a tree and leave” until well past then, a realization gleaned from an early draft of one of George McFly’s novels.

McFly.

His grip tightened on the steering wheel. George had spent a long time on that novel, sometimes putting it away for years at time to focus on other projects but coming back to it in fits and bursts. It was his baby, and he wanted it perfect. It was during such a stint five or six years ago — when Biff was filling in as a temporary mail carrier, that he was delivering a package to the McFly house.

“Just set it anywhere on the table,” George had said as he wandered out to tea on the patio with Lorraine. That was where Biff saw those fated pages, and recognized himself in Jeff, the school bully who beat up the egghead and harassed the girl.

It made Biff angry that that little dweeb was going to try to cash in on Biff’s life, and he probably would have torn up the pages then and there if Marty hadn’t come running into the room, 10 years old and all smiles.

“Biff!” he said as he jumped onto a dining chair. “Can you fix my car?” He’d set a small remote-controlled Jeep on the table, where it sat lopsided. The front axle had come loose and left the wheels sitting in a janky angle.

“Can’t you get your dad to fix it?”

“Nah, dad’s no good with cars.”

Biff picked up the car and held it in his hands. It wasn’t a very complicated thing, and a little gentle tugging popped the wheels back into place.

“There you go, kid.”

“Thanks!” Marty had exclaimed, going so far as to run around the table and give him a hug before racing back down the hallway, his car humming all the way.

Yeah. Marty was an OK kid. And a few weeks later, the book pages disappeared.

He’d heard rumblings recently about George’s next book, and he suspected this was the one.

He forced himself to loosen his grip on the steering wheel. Nothing good comes out of staying mad, he reminded himself. Sure, George McFly humiliated him and took everything he ever wanted, but Biff ended up with a great kid and his own business. Even if it was detailing other peoples’ cars. Sometimes that meant a little bit of groveling, but a small business workshop he went to had drilled one thing into him: You gotta play along to get along. And that was never more true than at the McFly house. He could put on a dumbass grin and bop around for them, because they tipped well.

And eventually, all that money would add up, Tiff would go to college, get a great job and he’d spend his golden years keeping her water-powered cars in gear.

But flying cars? Never gonna happen.