The most important thing you have to know is that Marlene McFly loved her brother.
Of course, she loved her parents as well, and her grandparents, and she loved her Uncle Doc, who had taught her to use a blowtorch in secret when her parents said she was too young, and who told her stories of distant times and strange places and had always said she was an “exceptionally bright child”. She supposed she loved her uncle Dave, who always brought sweets, even if he didn’t always remember what ones they liked, and her Aunt Linda, who let her be bridesmaid at her third wedding. She loved her friends, Alice and Spacer and Pixel, and she loved her dog, Newt.
But she loved her brother more than anyone. More than anything. More than she loved Christmas, more than she loved robots, more than she loved those cheesy boybands she pretended not to love. More than she loved herself.
They had been inseparable from the day they were born. They were twins, although as she was always fond of reminding people, Marlene was 20 minutes older. She had come into the world eager and confident. He had hesitated.
As babies they were always together, always in sync. They fed at the same time, slept at the same time, woke at the same time. By the time they could sit up, they would sit in their playpen or in their highchairs for hours on end, just babbling to each other in their own twin-language, as though they were the only people in the world.
By the time they could walk, it became apparent that while they always looked remarkably alike, they couldn’t be more different in terms of personality. Marlene was calm, serene, and had strangely intelligent eyes, and would look at you as though she were carefully considering you. Martin jr was clumsy, awkward, and could win prizes for loudest and most continuous crying, if such competitions existed. Still, they were inseparable. Martin would follow Marlene anywhere, like a little shadow, and Marlene would cry herself if ever he were picked up or taken away into another room.
On their first day of kindergarten, they walked in hand in hand, in matching t-shirts and shorts, clutching matching satchels and matching teddy bears, the very picture of greetings-card level adorable twins.
By the Friday of their first week, their differences had never been more obvious, as they both sat with their teacher, Miss Henry, waiting for their father to come and collect them early. Martin sat stock still, staring at his feet and refusing to make eye contact with anyone, bright red and silent apart from the occasional sniffle. Marlene sat the other side of Miss Henry, arms folded, head held high, quietly steaming with rage.
When their father arrived, he wasn’t angry, despite having been called out of work to come and get them, still in his office clothes. Instead, he had crouched on the floor in front of them, lowering himself to their eye level.
“What’s all this then, huh?” he had asked, softly. When both twins refused to answer, their teacher began to explain the whole story.
Over their first few days, Marlene had found it easy to make new friends. Martin found it hard to talk to anyone other than his twin. Marlene had charmed her way into the hearts of every member of staff with her precocious wit. Martin had sat in the corner and sucked his thumb. Marlene had found it easy to speak out whenever she was uncomfortable, or to ask when she needed anything. Martin had sat in silence, and had wet himself.
Miss Henry was quick and kind and had tried to deal with the situation discreetly, but one little boy had seen. Although “little” being rather kind, Miss Henry had thought. At age five, he was already nearly twice as big as the McFly twins, and ten times as nasty. He had grinned gleefully, running to tell all the other kids about “ickle baby McFly, peeing his pants”, laughing as though it was the funniest joke in the world.
So Marlene punched him.
Despite her small size, she had taken him by surprise, knocking him to the ground. She had then climbed on top of him, scratching at his face, and had had to be prised off him by two members of staff.
Marty McFly sr had sighed and strapped them both into the car, promising to have a nice long talk with both of them later, but insisting that they’d both had a tough and emotional day and could probably use a nap right now. As he glanced at them in the rear view mirror, he saw Martin jr reach out and silently grasp his twin’s hand. He smiled.
As the twins grew, Marlene continued to find it much easier than her brother to make friends, and none of their family’s advice helped much.
Grandpa George’s advice had been to “Just be confident! Don’t be so nervous!” (“Fantastic, you cured me,” Marty jr had grumbled.)
Grandma Lorraine had given the typical grandma advice of “Just be your own special self, and someone will see how lucky they’d be to have you as a friend!” (“But I am myself all the time, that’s part of the problem! It’s ME they don’t like!” Marty jr had cried out later in their bedroom, flinging his hands into the air as he paced back and forth. “Who else am I even meant to be being?”)
Uncle Doc had been a little more realistic. “I wouldn’t worry about it,” he’d said. “I never had any friends my own age when I was your age either. In fact, I never had any friends my own age! But just you wait long enough, and you’ll find someone who really understands you. In time.” (A little more comforting, but not very helpful right now, Marty jr had thought.)
Their father’s confusing advice was the least helpful of all, and when the twins were nine, lead to the younger twin being whisked off in an ambulance and spending the night in hospital.
(“But what were you doing in the tree in the first place?” their mother had asked, frantically.
“Dad told me to be a little more reckless, to show the other kids I wasn’t a complete wimp,” Marty had whimpered. Marlene had overheard their parents having one of their ‘heated disagreements’ about it later.)
That night, Marlene had found it hard to sleep. It was the first night she’d ever spent without her brother asleep in the next bed. Their bedroom seemed somehow darker alone, and the emptiness was suffocating. She felt her heart would break. She couldn’t get ready to go and visit her brother soon enough, when morning came.
When they arrived at the hospital, they’d found Marty jr had had an even worse night. He was sitting up in bed, and though his cheeks were dry now, his eyes were red and bloodshot as though he’d been crying all night. A nurse was trying to get him to eat some porridge.
Marlene had pulled away from her parents, pushing past the nurse, eyes only for brother. She sat on the bed next to him and flung her arms around his shoulders, pulling him close. Instantly, he wrapped his arms around her, sobbing into her chest.
“Promise you won’t ever leave me alone in a strange scary place like this again?” he’d gasped out between sobs.
Marlene stroked his hair and pressed a kiss to his forehead. “I promise,” she whispered, forcefully.
Marlene McFly. It was Marty jr who had chosen that name for her. Her parents had christened her Emmett, but as she had grown, it had become obvious that that wouldn’t do. She had decided that she wanted a new name, one that suited her better, before she started middle school.
Her father had suggested Emma, so she could still be named after Uncle Doc, but Marty had suggested Marlene, so they matched. Martin and Marlene.
Marlene had loved this, but even so, the twins had decided to ask Uncle Doc if he minded. Uncle Doc declared it “A splendid idea!” and started referring to her as “Marlene” at once. Marlene decided she really did love Uncle Doc, and decided to keep Emma as her middle name. Marlene Emma McFly.
Uncle Doc was clearly touched by this, as he became momentarily overcome with affection for the twins and gifted them their very own puppy that very same weekend, something they had been asking for for a long time.
The twins were thrilled.
Their parents less so, and they had some stern words with Doc about consulting them before doing these sorts of things, but they didn’t have the heart to take Newton away once the twins had already fallen in love with him, so Newt stayed.
When the day finally came for the twins to start middle school, everyone was a nervous wreck. Grandpa George, Gandma Lorraine, and their father had all gathered to see them safely out the front door, all three of them in floods of tears.
When their mother dropped them off at the school, they walked through the gates hand in hand like it was their first day of kindergarten all over again, although for the first time in their lives, they weren’t going to school in matching clothes.
For their whole first week, Marty was constantly proudly and forcefully referring to Marlene as “my sister”, and Marlene’s heart swelled with love and affection every time he did.
As time went on, however, everyone’s worst fears were set aside. Now she was truly herself, Marlene’s confidence only grew, and with it, her popularity.
By the time the twins were sixteen, Marlene was one of the most popular girls in school. She had her own little gang of cool girls, who every other girl in school was in awe of, and desperately wanted to be a part of. Everyone in school knew Marlene McFly’s name. She was clever, funny, athletic, pretty. She was Cool, with a capital C.
Marty McFly jr, however, was. Well. Not like that.
If Marlene was at the top of the school hierarchy, her brother Marty was at the bottom. She was the queen lioness who ruled the school, and he was dead meat.
And there were a lot of vultures around.
And this was how, on the 10th of September 2014, Marty jr found himself backed into a corner in a dark alley behind the school by one Griff Tannen.
“I’m going to ask you one more time McFly, and you better give me the right answer this time,” Griff hissed menacingly, lifting Marty by the front of his shirt, ignoring the faint whimpers the smaller boy was making. “Where’s. My. Money.”
“I don’t have it, Griff, I swear I don’t have it, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Marty gabbled, panic rising within him.
Griff grinned, a sneering, humourless grin. “Wrong answer, McFly.”
He threw Marty jr against the ground with all his strength. Marty gave a yelp of pain, and looked up to see Griff raising his boot above his head. He closed his eyes and braced himself for the impact. The impact never came.
Instead, he heard a thud, and what sounded like Griff yelping, and then staggering.
Marty opened his eyes.
Marlene McFly stood above him, wielding a baseball bat, and glaring at Griff with a look that, if looks could kill, with have murdered Griff ten times over by now. Griff was leaning against the opposite corner of the alley, clutching his head.
“Now listen, Tannen,” Marlene said, in a low, dangerous tone. “We can do this the easy way, or the hard way.”
Griff blinked at her.
“I’m going to give you five seconds to get the hell away from my brother.”
Griff eyed the baseball bat nervously.
“One,” Marlene took a step closer. “Two…”
Griff was gone before she even got to three.
“Marty!” she cried, all anger and threat instantly gone from her voice and her face, replaced instead with concern. “Are you alright? Can you stand?”
“I’m okay- AAAAAAARGH!” Marty jr yelled in pain as he attempted to stand. Marlene was by his side in an instant, putting his arm around her shoulders and her own around his middle, half supporting him, half carrying him.
“Let’s get you some help,” she said.
“Thank you,” Marty said, in a small, quiet voice.
“For saving me!” Marty looked at her in confusion.
“Don’t be silly,” Marlene said, brightly. “You’re my brother. I’ll always come to rescue you. Always.”
Marlene McFly loved her brother.