Don’t stop, don’t break,
You can delight because you have a place,
Quiet room, I need you now.
“It’s this skilful shift in rhythm, the treble begins with one emphasis pattern, followed by the bass, which solidifies it, then the drums kick in and shift it to another pattern. Literally within the first few seconds of the song. And the layering of the vocals is so cool – a major third, contrasting with the countermelody.” Marty is running his hands through his hair, a blissful smile gracing his face as he prattles about his new-found passion for Brit Rock.
Doc just nods, also smiling to see his partner so animated.
Marty has been studying classical music theory as an elective subject in college. When he showed an interest in rhythmic devices and their use in rock-and-roll, a tutor had suggested he listen to a few songs by a famous 70s group, Led Zeppelin. “Particularly their fourth album, considering you’re a guitarist, you’ll find a couple of songs on it that really shine,” the tutor had added, packing up after class.
Just the night previously, lying beside Doc in bed, Marty had listened to the whole album – headphones on, quietly nodding his head and jiggling his feet with the beat. He did find it heavier than his usual favourites, but since learning more about the technicalities and intricacies of music, he found himself simply appreciating the musicality of the British rock group.
Now, sitting with Doc in a crowded café in Hill Valley’s town square, Marty realises he’s become caught up in his thoughts and has likely been monopolising the conversation He shoots an embarrassed smile at Doc,. “Anyway, I’m really glad my tutor recommended it. I get why they were one of the biggest groups in the 70s.”
“I recall enjoying the BeeGees quite a bit in that decade.” Doc laughs, “I was definitely more into disco.”
“Oh ho ho.” Marty laughs, lovingly mocking. He raises his eyebrows, “Staying Alive, huh?”
“Among others, sure.” Doc feigns indifference, but his twinkling eyes give away his good humour.
Impulsively, Marty reaches for Doc’s hand and pulls it over to press his lips to his lover’s fingers. No matter how long they’ve been together – just over six years now – he finds he enjoys the simple sensation of his partner’s proximity. He moves Doc’s hand to his cheek and cocks his head to lean into it. Doc rubs his thumb along Marty’s cheekbone, looking at the younger man adoringly.
Then the spell wears off, suddenly Marty remembers he’s in a public space. He releases Doc’s hand, and clears his throat, looking about the greater café awkwardly.
He notices an old school acquaintance from Hill Valley High looking directly at him, a surprised expression on her face. Marty’s stomach does a backflip. The woman frowns slightly, and Marty finds he has to look away, feeling his cheeks reddening.
Doc appears perplexed by his partner’s sudden shift in demeanour, “You alright Marty?” he asks quietly.
“Yeah, Doc, uh, yeah. Um, hey you’re finished right?” He peers over quickly to check that the contents of Doc’s mug are completely drained. “Yeah, great. Let’s go then, we paid at the counter right?”
Doc is now downright surprised by Marty’s jumpiness, the younger man has all but leapt out of his seat, and is raring to go. Doc rises himself, collecting his coat and hat and follows his partner out of the warm crowded café, into cool winter air.
Doc peers into Marty’s face, concerned. Not more than a few steps from the café door, Marty appears to be breathing heavily. Doc firmly grasps Marty’s shoulder, forcing him to stop, “What’s going on Marty? You don’t seem well.”
“N-no, Emmett, I’m fine, I just- ah- I just c-“ Marty speech dissolves into short, sharp intakes of breath. His eyes are wide, tears beginning to form.
Doc immediately pulls Marty off the main street, into the small alleyway behind the café they’d just exited. He knows what’s happening, but he has to be sure, “Are you having a panic attack, Marty?”
Marty nods, his breath staccato, hands shaking. He sinks weakly onto a discarded milk crate, as doc takes his hands and squats to face him.
“That’s ok, Marty, it happens.” Doc releases one trembling hand to brush away the hair from Marty’s eyes, encouraging him to look up. “We’re going to take some deep breaths, ok?”
Marty nods again, the movement disrupted by the heaving of his lungs and the pounding of his heart.
“In,” Doc directs, counting in his head, “and out. In, and out.”
Slowly, gradually, Marty’s breathing slows, the shudders wracking his body lessen, the trembling in his hands fades. Seeing his partner’s distress lessening, Doc pushes himself up to standing, his back complaining about kneeling for so long. He then pulls Marty upwards, wrapping his arms protectively around the shorter man.
Marty sighs, trembling still, and clings to his partner. His hands bunch up the woollen fabric of Doc’s winter coat.
Doc rests his chin on Marty’s head, “I’d like to get you some water, but I don’t think you’re up to going back in the café.” He pulls away slightly, to see Marty’s face – it’s still flushed, streaked with tears. “That’s what set it off, isn’t it. Something in there.”
“Yep,” Marty responds quietly, his voice croaky from his ordeal. “I saw someone I used to know in school. She saw me, I guess, kissing you, kissing your hand.” At this, Marty takes a deep, shuddering breath. “I don’t know what got into me. I know most of the town knows about us, I don’t mind showing affection to you in public.”
Doc chuckles, “We both know your aversion to that took a while to overcome.”
“Yeah, well, I worked it out, you know. For you, Doc. I’m proud to be with you. I love you.” Marty looks away, “I don’t know what came over me, I think she looked at me kind of funny. Sort of, disapprovingly, I don’t know.” He buries his face once more in the Doc’s chest and continues speaking, voice now slightly muffled. “It brought back all these memories. When we had to hide everything we did, and when I had to tell my parents. I mean,” he scoffs, “they’re great now, but when I first came out to them, then introduced you as my boyfriend, it was rough for a while.”
“I remember all too well, Marty.” Doc recalls that uncomfortable night, George and Lorraine had asked him to leave, so they could speak to their son. They didn’t so much speak as shout – Doc waited for Marty in the DeLorean, listening to their questions and fears floating out open windows into the still summer night. It had taken some time for Marty’s parents to accept their son’s choice in partner.
“Can we go home?” Marty asks, clinging to Doc’s arm, pulling him back towards the main street.
Doc hums an affirmation and the pair find themselves once more in the Hill Valley town square. Before they can make headway to the DeLorean, parked on a street perpendicular to the quadrangle, a voice calls out urgently.
“Marty? Hey, Marty!”
The pair are suddenly overtaken by a short-haired young woman, she’s breathless, yet she grins warmly at Marty. He realises, with an accompanying sensation of his stomach dropping to the ground, that she’s the woman from the café, the one from Hill Valley High.
“Would you believe I almost forgot your name? I feel so stupid!” She laughs lightly, evidently oblivious to Marty’s rising sense of panic. “Do you remember me? Claire, from HVH.” She nods vigorously, almost as if the motion will help restore her old schoolmate’s memory.
Doc takes the initiative, sensing that Marty needs some time to calm himself before speaking. He leans forward, proffering a hand, “Hi, Claire, I’m Marty’s partner, Emmett.”
“Hey, cool,” she returns the handshake, with another bright grin, “Nice to meet you!”
Marty clears his throat. Beside him, Doc can sense residual tension in the young man’s posture, but it is nowhere close to where it had been in the café. Marty also offers a hand to the woman, “Claire, of course, uh, I recognised you, but I didn’t- I mean- I, uh…”
“I know what you mean,” she laughs again, rolling her eyes glibly, “I get so awkward when I can’t remember someone’s name too – that’s why I was frowning at you earlier, sorry! But I had to say hi, I mean, I really looked up to you in our final years, you know.” She smiles, blushing embarrassedly, “You were in that great band, you were getting top grades, you were dating that bombshell Jennifer…”
Immediately Claire realises she’s put her foot in it. “Oh, I’m so sorry, I just mean it was cool to date Jennifer. She was so hot. I don’t mean to be rude of course you and – it’s Emmett, right? – you two seem really happy together.” She pulls a distressed face, “I’m kind of digging myself deeper, aren’t I?”
Marty simply laughs, feeling the tightness in his shoulders lessen as he listens to Claire excuse herself. “It’s okay, I get it. Jennifer was a good friend, we keep in touch sometimes. You’re right though, me and Doc are happy.” He takes Emmett’s hand and smiles at the older man.
Claire laughs nervously along with Marty, “Anyway, I guess I just wanted to say hello, catch up a bit. I’ve got to go though, my girlfriend is waving me over.” She points to a distant figure at the other side of the square, obviously trying to get her attention. “That’s why I’m in town again, I’m introducing her to my parents, you know how it is! It was great seeing you again, after all these years. I’ll, uh, I’ll see you ‘round, maybe.” She trails off, awkward once more. Then swiftly turns, smiling brightly and walks hurriedly in the direction of her partner.
“Huh,” Marty breathes, “Who would’a thought?”
Doc simply puts an arm around the younger man’s shoulders, “Turns out everything’s perfectly fine, Future Boy.”
As they turn to walk back to their car, Marty feels somewhat foolish. “That was all pretty dumb then, hey,” he mutters, almost to himself.
“No, Marty, no it wasn’t.” Doc looks him closely in the eye. “You feel what you feel, no matter the cause. You’re fine though, and – honestly – you recovered really quickly.”
“Thanks to you, Emmett,” Marty admits freely.
“I’m here for you, Marty.” Doc winks at his partner, “I’ll show you just how committed I can be when we get home.”
Marty releases a contented sigh, and rests his head on Doc’s shoulder as they walk side-by-side from the town square.
Is it the right word?
Is it the broken word?
Come to me, half as sweet.