“Save her, do as your heart tells you to do, and millions will die who did not die before.”
Spock, City on the Edge of Forever
When I saw him standing there on the street that bitterly cold morning just in front of the diner where he had been so often before in recent months, I knew there would be trouble. Janie did not like bums hanging around the joint, and she particularly didn't like this one. “He gives me the creeps,” she had said more than once pf the tall, angular man. “There is something about him that isn't quite right.”
I didn't know the guy's name then although I had seen him around. The diner where I worked catered to the down and out, and homeless men and women were more welcome in that part of town than in some other places of the city where the wealthy considered them unacceptable. So the riff-raff flowed through this the streets and the alleys here like water down a river, favoring this place or that and avoiding where they found themselves unwelcome. They came in groups of three or four or a couple together but less frequently there was a man or woman alone. It was hard to survive here alone. When I had first noticed him, I had seen him with another fellow, a shorter, stockier man with riveting good looks and the temperament to match. He'd been a looker, that one, but then he disappeared into the city and the strange man seemed to be alone all of the time now. It wasn't unusual. Hard times made friendships difficult and many were willing to go it alone rather than to try to share their meager resources.
This particular day he was standing hunched against the cold, his arms trying to hold in his body heat despite his meager, too-light jacket, his slow breathing shown only by the occasional puffs of warmed air misting in the icy atmosphere. Even though he was standing on a grate where the rising steam was warm, he was still freezing. I realized quickly that he seemed almost oblivious to his own condition because his gaze was fixed on something down the street. When I followed his gaze, I was uncertain what he was watching.
“That one again!” Janie, the diner's owner, exclaimed when she came out of the kitchen with two cups of coffee and two doughnuts, one each for her and me. Since we hadn't had a customer in over an hour and had had few during the breakfast hour, Janie had declared a break as long as we had nothing to do but wait. At this rate, I knew that Janie couldn't keep the diner open indefinitely. I served tables and took the coins that paid for the meals I put on the table, and I knew Janie was not making much money these days. Where I would go if she had to close the business I didn't want to consider. I had fled the cold and lonely Tennessee hill country looking for a better life and had not found it here. For me, there was no going home because there was no home.
“Why don't you leave him alone, Janie?” I said defensively, responding to the man's misery. “He's not doing anything, just standing there.”
“I don't like his looks,” she insisted aggressively. “Don't want him around here.”
“You may own this diner,” I pointed out carefully, “but you don't own the street.”
“We'll see about that,” she replied darkly.
The hair raised slightly on the back of my neck at her tone. That was not good news for the drifter. Janie had connections to City Hall somehow although she never made it clear what they were, and her interest in that man could spell trouble for the tall, aloof stranger, even though he never made any trouble whatsoever for anyone. When Janie took a dislike to someone, they had a tendency to go missing or wind up dead somewhere. I wasn't sure how she managed it, but I had seen it happen once too often to believe in coincidences.
A customer came in to eat, and while I was waiting to take his order I looked out the big front window at the homeless man more carefully, engraving his unusual looks in my mind in case this was the last time I would see him, but. He was tall and thin with a patrician air of refinement that looked out of place on a homeless man. Shivering, he appeared to feel the cold wind as though it cut him like a knife. A blind man could see how miserable he was. The omnipresent toboggan was there, and I wondered why he wore that cap all the time. I had even seen him wear it on the hottest summer days last summer so I had to wonder what he was hiding with it. From a closer perspective now, I could see how tired and worn he appeared to be, and it occurred to me that Janie didn't need to call in any favors. If he couldn't get a break soon, it didn't look as though he would live through the harsh winter on the streets. I wondered if anyone had told him about the mission on Twenty-first Street but didn't feel somehow that it was my place to tell him if he didn't know. Poor guy, I thought, he didn't look like he had a friend in the world. What had happened to the man I had seen him with in the past?
Someone shouted down the street, and the bum looked around as though he thought someone had called him. I could tell from his face that whoever he thought might have called out to him was not the person who had actually shouted. Summoning some strength somewhere, the man began to walk trying to get warm. I hoped he would find a place somewhere out of the weather. He needed it.
The lunch crowd began to filter in as he disappeared down the street. Break time, short as it had been, was over and I didn't think of him anymore during that shift. When I left Janie's at closing that night, I saw him a couple of blocks over still out in the cold and alone. Something made me want to help him, but I couldn't imagine what I could do. I could barely feed and keep shelter for myself, much less do the same for a complete stranger. The world was hard and cold for people like us who didn't have a family or a friend.
I thought about the stranger as I walked to work at Janie's the next morning and wondered if he'd ever found a warm place to spend the night. The early morning air was bitterly cold, the kind of temperature that made it hurt to breathe in the frigid air, and it was definitely not a night for anyone to sleep on the street. But there he was sitting on the sidewalk, right in front of Janie's joint again and clearly as cold as he had been the day before. Concerned, I stopped before I stepped into the diner.
“Mister,” I said, “the owner of this joint doesn't like you hanging around here. Get lost.”
He looked up from where he was huddled on the pavement, and I knew that he was already lost. The bleakness of his dark eyes made me wonder what had happened to him. It was clear that he was achingly and totally alone, and I was afraid for him. He was so thin I wondered when he had eaten last.
“I do not wish to make trouble,” he said formally, struggling to rise.
I made a snap judgment. “Wait here a minute,” I told him. “I'll be right back.”
I rushed into the diner, grabbed one of the paper cups we used for carry out, and quickly poured the bum a cup of steaming hot coffee. On my way out, I grabbed a danish that was old enough to be a little bit suspect and wrapped it in a piece of wax paper. Stepping onto the sidewalk, I shoved it at him as he stood shivering.
“Here!” I snapped. “Take this quick before the owner comes out of the kitchen. Now git! Janie don't like bums hanging around here.” I turned quickly back toward the warmth of the diner, trying to distance myself from the man in case Janie should step out of the kitchen.
“I cannot pay for this, “the man said, offering to return it. His voice was rich and deep, and somehow I didn't expect it coming out of that worn body.
“I didn't ask you for money, did I?” I snapped again. “Now go on and don't hang around here anymore. There will be trouble for you if you do.”
He clutched the cup of coffee to his chest as if it was bringing life back to him and stuffed the danish into his shabby jacket pocket. Walking slowly, I watched as he retreated down the street drinking the coffee sip by sip as if it were the best thing he'd had in days. Then Janie emerged from the kitchen and I stepped away from the door of the diner quickly, hoping that she hadn't seen what I’d done.
“I ran that bum off,” I said, figuring it wasn't entirely a lie. “Told him to stay away from here.”
“Thanks,” Janie replied absentmindedly. “I don't like bums hanging around my joint. Messes up the view.”
I breathed a sign of relief. Knowing Janie as I did, she would have been on me immediately if she had seen me so my secret was safe. Hanging up my coat and putting away my things, I reached for an apron so I could start my day at the diner.
I'd done what I could for the bum and didn't think about him for days. He was just one of the thousands in the city who were struggling to stay alive. Missions had sprung up here and there to help the unemployed and homeless, but there were many more in need than there was help available. But something curious happened that brought him to mind again. I was walking by the Twenty-first Street Mission, a place I'd passed a million times, when I saw that handsome fellow that the tall bum had first shown up with. I couldn't remember how long ago that had been – a year, two maybe – but I hadn't seen Mister Handsome for months. Yet there he was with Miss Keeler, the woman who ran the mission. He was laughing and talking with her, and it occurred to me that he was getting along much better than his former friend seemed to be doing. Something about that made me angry. Stupid, isn't it? I didn't know either of them and didn't know why they weren't on the streets together as they had been, but knowing Mister Handsome was hale and hearty made me mad. He wasn't ragged and thin like most of the homeless men around here. Mister Handsome was eating just fine.
I watched as he and Miss Keeler climbed the steps into a boarding house down the street from the mission, and then I was alone on the cold streets again. What was the big deal, I thought? I didn't know any of these people, and yet there was something about the situation that made me ache as though the future of the entire world depended on them. Silly, isn't it, how you can get a notion like that? Mister Handsome was a looker and a man who would be noticed anywhere. He was dynamic and lively, a people person, I suspected. His dark former friend was almost a direct opposite – reserved and formal but also handsome in his own right. But there was something else about him...I couldn't put my finger on it, but he was seemed different from anyone I had ever known.
Looking around, I saw the other one, the one I'd risked my job to feed only days earlier. He had been standing in the shadows across the street watching Miss Keeler and the other man walking from the mission to the boarding house just as I had. That thought made me uneasy, and I wondered if he was up to no good. But if he was, what business of mine was it? He was nothing to me, I told myself, anymore than Miss Keeler or Mister Handsome. None of them meant anything to me.
Shaking off the peculiar mood that had descended on me, I continued on my way toward my friend Alexis' place for a night of cards. If I was lucky, she had baked a cake or something. She shared a house with several other women, and together they managed better than I did most of the time so sometime she has snacks for us while we played or cake. I liked sweets occasionally but never had the money for them. A night at Alexis' could provide a little treat I couldn't afford for myself as well as company I desperately needed. But I couldn't shake the unsettled mood I found myself in. The strange, dark man preoccupied my mind.
When I was sitting in Alexis' parlor shuffling the cards, I thought of him again. Curious, I asked, “Have you ever seen someone that you can't get out of your mind?”
Alexis looked up at me, her gray eyes puzzled. “What do you mean?” she said. “Is this someone you have met? Are you attracted to this person?” I could tell she thought there was some man I was seeing or hoping to date, a potential mate to alleviate my loneliness.
I had to think before I could respond. “Yes, I have met him briefly, but, no, I don't think I am attracted to him.” I found it harder to answer her question than I thought it should be so I decided to tell her a bit more. When I had told her what had occurred in the last few days, I asked, “What do you think is happening? Why should the fate of that one man be any different than all the other homeless men out there?”
She smiled. “You act tough, June, but you're not as tough as you think you are. You care about people, and this guy sounds like he's really down on his luck.”
I made a face at her, and she laughed. Alexis had come closer to the truth than I wanted her to know. “But why him?”
She shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe somewhere down in your mind he reminds you of someone you have known. He might resemble an old flame, almost anybody in your life you particularly liked, something like that.”
“I can't think of anyone I've ever known like him,” I told her honestly as I chuckled. “He is different from everybody I have ever known.”
“How?” she asked, her voice puzzled.
“I don't know,” I admitted with a shrug. “He's just different.”
Alexis laughed. “That doesn't help, June. It doesn't t help at all.” She picked up the deck of cards. “Let's play.”
I never stayed late when I went to play cards with Alexis. Having to be at work so early in the morning made that impossible, but we laughed and had an especially good time that night. Before I knew it, it was almost eleven, hours later than I had planned to stay. I started home, realizing how empty the streets were at that time of night, and worried whether I would be safe. The newspapers were full daily of stories about what happened to the unwary who didn't know how to protect themselves, and I didn't want to be one of them.
The mugger was on me before I realized he was there. I screamed once, a thin, pitiful sound that echoed through the empty streets, but even as I did I knew it was useless. There was no one to hear. It was dark and late and I was alone on these streets. No one would come to help, not if they had to leave their safe, warm beds to do so.
I backed up trying to get away from the man who brandished a knife and gestured for my purse. Every cent I had in the world was in that wallet. Without it, I would be homeless and hungry as the man who occupied more and more of my thoughts. No, I thought, I couldn't let him have my cash. He would have to kill me for it. Taking another step away, I shook my head silently. Light hit the blade as he waved in his hand.
Then my assailant crumbled slowly, and my mind slowly began to refocus. I looked away from the knife which now lay on the sidewalk to the limp body of my assailant before I realized that there was someone else here. The homeless man. He gently eased the body he was holding to the ground.
“Don't scream please,” he said hastily, putting out a long, white hand. “I did not harm him. He is unconscious only.”
“What did you do to him?” I asked shakily, hysteria rising.
“It is a technique known...among my people,” he said reluctantly. “I mean you no harm. I only intended to help.”
Suddenly, it occurred to me that this man had risked his life for me. I owed him big time, and the first thing I needed to do was to get him out of here. He had broken my attacker's neck, I figured, and they could charge him with murder if he was caught.
“Come home with me,” I rasped. “Come home and stay the night. When they find him, they'll be looking for whoever did that to him. I owe you that much. Come home with me for the night, and then you can leave town first thing in the morning.”
“He is not harmed,” the man insisted. “He is only unconscious.”
I didn't believe him, of course. No one on Earth could do what the strange man had done. Then I looked at him, really looked at him up close for the first time. The struggle with my assailant had dislodged his cap revealing strange pointed ears and eyebrows like I had never seen. No one I had ever known looked like that.
“Who are you?” I gasped in terror.
My frightened look must have alerted him to his disguise failure. Automatically, he reached for the cap and returned it to his rightful place. He had always seemed emotionless, stoic before. Now he seemed frightened.
“I will not harm you,” he said in a low, intense voice, clearly trying to convince me. “If I had wished you harm, I would not have intervened on your behalf. Please do not scream.”
He was right, of course. I would never have known he was there in the dark if he had not come forward to assist me. He could have remained wherever he was and not risked his safety on my behalf.
“We need to talk,” I said emphatically, “and you need to get off this street. Follow me.”
I didn't look around to see if he followed. He would have been a fool not to do as I said. It was bitterly cold tonight and anyone who had not found shelter already was likely to die out there tonight. I looked over my shoulder half a block down the street and found that he was pacing me easily, those long legs eating up the distance.
It wasn't far to my boarding house. When we arrived, I gestured silently for him not to speak and he nodded. His intelligence seemed to radiate from him, something I hadn't notice before, and I wondered why an obviously educated man was living on the street like this. The two of us slipped into my room, and I shut the door behind us.
“I am not supposed to have a man in my room,” I whispered as I removed my coat. “Keep your voice down.”
The man shivered as he unbuttoned his coat. For the first time, I realized he had no scarf or gloves, and the jacket he was wearing was light and threadbare. How he had survived this weather I did not understand. I thought of my brother Brandon's things there in the dresser but said nothing. I owed him, I knew, but I hadn't decided whether I owed him that much or not.
“What is your name?” I asked as we sat down on the small settee, the only place in the room where I could sit other than the bed.
“I am Spock,” he told me, his deep voice barely audible in the quiet of the small room.
“Where are you from?” I asked. “You don't look human.”
“I come from another place,” he said vaguely, not really answering the question.
“What are you doing here?” I demanded, letting the question of his origins slid for the moment.
“I came here looking for an injured friend,” he said softly. “We...worked together. When he was hurt, he became delirious and ran off. I have been trying to find him since.”
“Is that the fellow I saw you with when you first arrived?” I had to know.
“When I first arrived? No, that was not him. That would have been Jim, my...friend Jim.”
He wasn't being entirely truthful, I knew, and I wasn't sure why he was lying to me. It was not like I was any threat to him, especially given that he could do that move he did, whatever it was. No, the only threat that I posed to this man was to reveal him for what he was, and he clearly was willing to work to avoid that. But he would only go so far, I suspected. Something else was in play, something he didn't want to discuss.
“You were with Jim a lot when I first noticed you,” I pointed out. “Now you just seem to watch him at a distance. Why?”
He looked away but not before I saw that look in his eyes. Yes, there it was, I realized. This was the issue that he wanted to remain closed, the issue that hurt him badly. I had blundered into it without knowing. Something between him and Jim, Mister Handsome.
“He disappointed you, didn't he?” I asked. “No, more than that, he hurt you. Badly.”
Spock would not look up or meet my eyes. “No, you are mistaken,” he murmured quietly.
I looked at him. Whatever had happened between him and Jim had devastated him. His hands shook slightly but not from the cold, I suspected.
“I am not educated like you, Spock,” I told him, “but I know people. This Jim has turned your world upside down. Why? Was it something to do with Miss Keeler? Were you in love with her, too?”
Trying not to respond, he rose and walked quietly to the window, putting some distance between us. I let him look out the window without commenting. Pain seemed to radiate from him, and I wondered how anyone could bear that much suffering without showing any sign of it.
“No,” I determined, “you weren't in love with Miss Keeler, were you?”
“No, I was not,” he agreed.
“You were in love with him, weren't you?”
The words hung in the air like ice crystals in a storm. Once said, they couldn't be unsaid. I had heard that that happened sometime, that most times women and men were attracted to one another but that sometimes women loved women and men loved men. I had always assumed that such men would be weak or effeminate, but I could see that I was wrong. Spock was a man in all senses of the word. Tall, spare, and angular, there was nothing feminine about him. And Mister Handsome? Spock's Jim. Well, I had taken him for a womanizer before he took up with Miss Keeler, but given her reputation I don't think she would have tolerated a playboy in her life. Spock and Jim had come here to this grim, hard knock city, I realized, and Jim had fallen in love with Miss Keeler. It was as simple as that.
“You loved him, but he fell in love with Miss Keeler,” I corrected. Then I remembered hearing that the social worker had married recently and put things together. “You loved him, but he married Miss Keeler,” I corrected.
The visible flinch gave him away, and he seemed shamed that I could read him so easily. He turned completely away from me and looked out the window again.
“We had a task to do here,” he said softly. “Jim and I planned to complete it and return where we came from as we had many times in the past. Our plans...did not go well. There were complications. He became involved with Miss Keeler while we were working here and decided he did not wish to leave. “
“You loved him.”
“What I felt for the Cap-.” He shook himself like a dog shaking off rain. “The cold has affected me more than I had realized,” Spock said. “I apologize for my behavior. There is no excuse.”
“What have you done?” I asked. “I see nothing that you need to apologize for.”
“You do not understand,” he insisted. “Our mission is more important than you can possibly understand.”
I put hands on my hips. “Then tell me. Make me understand.”
He shook his head. “I cannot. There are other factors at work here. Things that you cannot know.”
My frustration at his intransigence was tempered by the knowledge that this was likely the first time this man had discussed this obviously painful subject with anyone. How long had he been on the streets alone, using the time he had to watch his Jim at a distance? Why was he still looking for their injured friend long after his Jim had abandoned the search? And where was his injured friend?
I looked at the clock and realized with a sigh that it was well after midnight. Our time for talking together had long run out. To be able to do what I must at the diner tomorrow, I had to get some sleep. Looking around the room, I made a decision. I stood and went to the bureau and pulled out the small pile of Brandon's clothes, the only things in the world I had left of him.
“I am going to go to the toilet now,” I told him flatly. “These clothes belonged to my brother. He doesn't need them anymore. Try them on and take what you need. There's a better jacket than you have and some gloves, too. I'll be back in ten minutes so you have until then to see if they fit in private. You can stay the night here where it's warm and leave with me in the morning. I have to be at work at six so I always leave before the household is awake. You won't be seen leaving here. Is that agreeable to you?”
“That would be most helpful,” he said. “I appreciate your assistance.”
I took fifteen minutes to return just in case. When I opened the door, I found Spock lying on the floor, Brandon's heavy coat made into a blanket, the small pile of clothes serving as a pillow. He looked as comfortable as a man could be in that position, my mind jabbered aimlessly, and I was glad to know that at least tonight he could rest somewhat well.
He sat up slightly. “It occurred to me that you never gave me your name,” he pointed out politely.
“I'm June, June Gray,” I told him lightly. “I'm glad to meet you, Spock.”
“And I you, Miss Gray,” he returned. “Good night.”
“Good night to you, Spock.”
I found myself suddenly shy before this cool, reserved being and started to slip into bed fully clothed rather than to undress in front of him, but he anticipated my action and sat up. “That will not be necessary, Miss Gray,” he told me. “I can give you privacy.”
With that, he shifted his improvised pallet around to where his back was turned to me and settled back down. I still flushed at the idea of undressing with him present but decided to be practical. With only two dresses to my name, I couldn't afford to sleep in one of them in the middle of the week and spoil it. I quickly slipped out of my dress and slip and pulled on my nightgown and robe, deciding to sleep in both under the circumstances.
“Good night, Mister Spock,” I called softly.
“Good night again, Miss Gray.”
As soon as the bedding began to warm me, I found myself sinking into sleep. Foolishly, I wondered what the exotic looking stranger would look like in the morning with his face soft and flushed from sleep. Maybe I would wake first and find out, I thought. This would certainly be my only chance.
Then my curiosity got the best of me. “Spock,” I whispered, “did you ever find your injured friend?”
He turned in the darkness of the room and looked at me, the light from the street highlighting his glossy black hair. “No, Miss Gray, we never found him.”
I could hear him settle back onto his pallet and wondered if he was still looking for that missing friend when he wandered the city. That sort of loyalty impressed me. I didn't know where he had been when his friend had been injured, but to continue to look for him day after day was a gesture that touched my heart. I decided that I would tell him how impressed I was by him in the morning when we woke.
But I should have known better. He was hiding a secret or secrets that he was not willing to divulge to me or to anyone else. When he acquiesced so quickly to coming to my room, I should have understood that Spock was only avoiding a confrontation or an argument that could draw more attention to him. That was my mistake and the last one I would make with him for when I woke to my alarm clock in the morning I looked around preparing to speak to him of my thoughts during the night. But I was too late. The strange man was gone, the only sign he had ever been there a small note in exquisitely precise handwriting.
The tiny note said, “Thank you for the coat and gloves, Miss Gray. Both fit well. I appreciate the use of your home for the evening and shall take care to assure that I leave your domicile without detection. Spock.”
The note lay atop most of the clothes that I had offered Spock. The only thing he had taken were the coat, a scarf, and gloves. Other than my initial disappointment, I didn't have time to think about it much. After all, I needed to be at work in less than an hour and the walk there alone would take almost half that time. Standing in line to get access to the bathroom could be tedious early in the morning so I rose quickly, hoping to beat the crowd. When I saw him again, I decided, I would give him a piece of my mind for slipping off like that in the middle of the night.
Except I never saw him again. He disappeared as though he had never existed.
Initially, I gave it little thought. It wasn't as though we had had daily, routine contact. He drifted around the city looking for work and watching out for his Jim, I suspected, or searching for his lost friend. Only later, when the days turned to weeks and the weeks to months, did I become concerned. Seeing tall men on the street set my eyes to searching their faces until the summer came and the heavy winter head coverings disappeared. I'm not sure I would have recognized him without his. Finally, I tried to resign myself to the fact that he had likely simply moved on as the hundreds and thousands of homeless men I had seen coming through the city in search of work. Perhaps, Spock wasn't as different as I had thought he was. Maybe it was just the fright and the darkness that had affected my judgment that night. Perhaps, he wasn't as special as I had believed.
Then one day I realized I had another chance. His Jim, Mister Handsome, and the Keeler woman walked into the diner one afternoon while I was working and sat in my section. A modest wedding ring on her finger, she was heavily pregnant, and she and Spock's Jim were obviously very much in love. Somehow, it made me angry. I remembered the look on Spock's face that night and wondered if his Jim had ever realized how much he had been loved. How could he have missed it when it was so obvious to me? Before I could get to the table, I saw the woman rise and make her way to the powder room and knew I had my chance.
When I went to the table to take their order, I couldn't resist. “Didn't I used to see you around the neighborhood with another man, sir?” I questioned, judging that I had a few minutes before the woman returned. “Not recently, of course. When you first came into the city last year or maybe the year before. I thought you were traveling together.”
“You must be referring to Spock,” he said, his face turning a bright pink. Yes, I knew with satisfaction, he may not have returned the other man's love, but he had not forgotten him. I watched him brighten more with tension or embarrassment.
“I haven't seen him around recently,” I continued as though I had no idea what might have occurred. “What ever happened to him?”
He was angry at the intrusion now but trying not to show it. “Don't you know?” he asked with a touch of anger evident in his voice. “You seem to keep better track of Spock than I have recently.” He laughed. It was a cold and unpleasant laugh. “Actually I have no idea,” he answered blandly. “He just seemed to drop out of sight.”
“That's too bad,” I told him, giving him a hard look. “I always had the impression that you were such good friends.”
His face hardened, and I knew I had said enough. “We were once,” he admitted, “but things change.”
I looked at the adoring woman who slipped in across the table from him and wondered if she had any idea what had happened between the two men. In the neighborhood, Miss Keeler had had a reputation as a dreamer and a visionary who told people about things that she thought would come to pass, but she was also thought to be level-headed and practical. If she learned what had happened between Spock and her husband, what would she think?
But when I looked at into her happy face, I could tell that she cared deeply for Jim Kirk and would do anything for him. I suspected that he would do the same for his wife as well. He had rejected a potential suitor to marry Edith Keeler, and I had to wonder what that had cost him. And Spock. I took their order and turned away from the blissful couple. I was too busy to linger.
What had happened? I wondered why the relationship between the two men had changed. Had it been because of Edith Keeler alone? For a long time, I wondered whether Spock might still be here somewhere in the city still looking for that lost friend. Or had he finally given up and gone back to whatever strange place he had come from? Time and again, I shook off the odd way the situation had made me feel and went back to the real struggle of living. After all, it didn't really make that much difference, did it?