Tonight, Sally had Dad and Megan to herself. Bobby was on a camping trip with friends from their old school and Mom said Baby Gene was still too young for overnight visits. So Sally got to curl up on the sofa next to her glamorous stepmother, with no little brothers competing for attention. On a normal Friday, this would be everything she could wish for.
This Friday, though, Sally had been absorbed in surviving until 8:30. She worried that the hour would never come, and at the same time she feared she would miss it. What if Dad was late picking her up from Mom and Henry's? What if Dad and Megan suggested taking her out for a special dinner? She was pretty sure you couldn't turn down a special dinner outing with your often-missed father and your beautiful stepmother just because you would rather stay home watching television, even if deep down in your soul that was all you really wanted.
Fortunately, Dad got her (more or less) on time and, when they arrived at his apartment, Megan lay stretched out on the sofa, in the dark.
Dad flicked on the light switch. "Rough day?" he asked, though somehow Sally thought it didn't sound like the way you would ask that question if you really cared how someone's day was.
"It's nothing, just auditions and –Sally!" She sat up. "Oh, God, I forgot it was Friday."
After that, Megan had to go in the bathroom and (she said) fix her face. After a brief consultation between the adults, Dad called down to the deli on the corner and ordered hero sandwiches. He went to pick them up, and Sally settled in to watch Wild Wild West. (Wild Wild West was okay, it was Bobby's favorite, and they'd be able to talk it over when she got home Sunday night. But it wasn't what she'd been waiting for all day, and, if a special dinner had been called for, she wouldn't have regretted missing this show.)
Eventually, Megan came back with fresh makeup and sleek, perfect hair. Dad brought the sandwiches, then went to use the telephone while Sally and Megan ate on the couch. The upholstery was black and velvety soft, but Megan pulled her stockinged feet up onto it (so Sally did the same) and didn't fuss when crumbs, and even a little oil, fell from their plates. Sally ate her dinner with gusto, watching Jim West and Artemus Ward foil an attempt to take over Canada.
"Is Canada still all wild like that?"
"Montreal isn't." Megan smiled. "It's no New York, but it's really very modern."
"Maybe all of us can go there, sometime. As a family. Like we did with Disneyland."
"It's not exactly Disneyland, either. But thank you, Sally. You're sweet." Megan said, and she tried to be subtle as she dabbed at the corner of her eye. Sally let Megan think she didn't notice, but she understood. That California vacation had been the best time of Sally's life, too, and it sometimes made her sad they could never get it back.
Sally sucked the last bits of sandwich grease off her fingers. It made a little popping sound that she enjoyed and knew Mom would have hated. You couldn't imagine Megan doing such an indelicate thing herself, but she didn't scold. Instead, she glanced over at Dad. Seeing him still on the phone, she tore what was left of her sandwich in half and set a portion on Sally's plate. "Why don't you take this?" she said in a whisper. "I'm not feeling too hungry."
At home, Sally had learned to measure any request for seconds against her mother's potential eyeroll or belittling remark. Just because Mom was obsessed with Weight Watcher recipes, Sally didn't think they all needed to be. Besides, the remarks were never directed at Bobby. For some reason, he could have whatever he wanted because he was a 'growing boy', as though Sally's three inches in the past six months were something other than 'growth'.
But Megan had shared her own meal without having to be asked. Only after swallowing the last bite did Sally remember an overheard conversation in which Dad had commented that Megan was getting too thin. That was the first time it had occurred to Sally that thin was something that could be "too much" – everyone liked Twiggy, after all, and Audrey Hepburn. But apparently there was a perfect middle ground you were supposed to aim for, and her father disfavored the "too thin" end as much as the other. Whatever her mother thought, Sally had lost inches of waistline when she got taller. Taking that into account, Sally was glad she had taken the extra sandwich.
Wild, Wild West was ending, and the moment that had worried her all day approached. She had been debating whether to ask for permission or simply take charge, but Megan was being so affectionate tonight that Sally asked, "Can I change to something else?"
"Of course, sweetie," said Megan, and Dad called, "Just one more show," from the kitchen. He had finished his phone calls, but instead of joining them, stayed at the table, frowning over some papers.
"Yes, Dad," Sally replied, happy to obey when obedience cost her nothing. One more show was all she wanted.
The NBC peacock lit the screen, and Megan asked, "Is it time for Man from U.N.C.L.E? That Napoleon Solo is pretty dreamy, isn't he?"
Megan deserved credit for remembering her previous favorite, although Sally personally thought that liking Napoleon Solo more than Ilya Kuryakin was like preferring Paul McCartney to John Lennon. There was nothing definably wrong with the opinion, but it suggested to Sally a mind that might not be in complete sympathy with her own.
"They moved U.N.C.L.E to Mondays." Sally cuddled back against Megan, hoping that the gesture and the note of apology in her voice would make up for correcting her stepmother. (You never corrected Mom unless you wanted a slap in the face.) "I watched it. It's still okay." She'd been surprised that Mom had let her watch the show again, after how much trouble she got in last spring. Sally was still angry about that – it had been dark and she was alone and her friend was asleep, it wasn't her fault the other lady was so nosy. Then she realized that her mom didn't know she had been watching TV at the time she was caught. Sally's prime time viewing now had the extra thrill of getting away with something.
Just then, the majestic rising notes of the score poured out of the television. "This is my new favorite," she said, as the U.S.S. Enterprise flew onto the screen. It seemed almost ready to fly through the screen, as though she could reach out and touch it.
"Oh, Star Trek!" Megan gave an enthusiastic clap. Sally felt a surge of connection until Megan added, as though this were the exciting part. "I think my friend Camille knows the casting director."
"Oh," Sally said. "Cool." It was strange thinking of Star Trek having casting directors, or even actors, of somehow operating in the same sphere as Megan with her endless auditions leading to occasional commercials. But Sally didn't need to think about that now. She had been anticipating this season premiere all summer. She squeezed Megan's hand, but focused her attention on the television.
On tonight's episode, the crew hadn't arrived at a new planet, or encountered hostile aliens. The problem was much stranger. Mr. Spock, previously so impervious to emotions, kept losing his temper for no good reason. When Dr. McCoy wanted to examine him, Spock got especially upset.
Sally squirmed uncomfortably. She had always admired Spock's cool as much as Captain Kirk's dashing bravery. As for grouchy Bones McCoy, his no-nonsense manner and scratchy voice reminded her of what Grandpa Gene must have been like when he was a younger man, and Sally still missed Grandpa Gene. It was one thing when Spock and Bones had their differences of opinion about logic and emotion, which Kirk would usually put to rest with a little joke. Tonight, Spock was angry with Bones and Jim for real; he even yelled at poor Nurse Chapel. Sally kept telling herself, "It's just a show," but it was a show she had waited all summer for. Make-believe or not, Sally was really upset.
Finally, Spock explained the reason for his anger, but it wasn't much of an explanation. What's pon farr? Sally wondered, but she resolved not to ask Megan or Dad. It felt like one of those things grownups understood and wouldn't tell you. As if to confirm Sally's suspicion, Megan got up from the couch and went to the kitchen. "Don," she said, with a giggle. "I'm not sure but I think the plot of this show is that –" Then her voice lowered to a whisper.
"What?" Dad's voice rose.
Megan laughed again, and then Dad was in the living room. "Does your mother let you watch this?"
There was no good answer. If she told the truth and said yes, he might complain about how irresponsible Mom was and make her turn it off. If she said no, he might say she was trying to get away with something and make her turn it off. She didn't fully understand what Megan could have told him about the show in the first place, but she knew that things were wrong between Spock and his captain that needed to be fixed. Sally needed to see them fixed, and if she had to stop watching halfway through, she might actually die.
"Don, it's her favorite show," said Megan. "It's science fiction, it's harmless. I only told you because I thought it was funny."
Sally appreciated the support, although she certainly didn't see what was funny about it. She put a bit of childish lisp back in her voice as she said, "It is my favorite."
Dad gave the television a skeptical look, but fortunately it had switched to commercials, the only part of Sally's shows he really watched anyway. "Megs, do you think that footage is supposed to look terrible? Or is CGC going broke?"
Megan shook her head. "You know I don't keep up with these things since I left the agency."
"Well, would you buy this time slot?" He gave the television a frown of concentration. "Harry says hardly anybody watches this show. But according to our demographics, the people who watch it are the right kind of people. It's really big with college educated white men."
Remembering a conversation with her stepfather, Sally interjected, "Henry says Governor Rockefeller loves Star Trek."
"Well I guess that settles it." Dad waved a hand in dismissal and walked back toward his paperwork. "Just turn it off at the end of the hour."
Megan followed him. "Did you hear me say my friend Camille knows the casting director?"
"You don't even like Camille. You told me that yourself. But you'd look good in one of those skirts."
"Oh, you think so?"
"No. Well, yes but not parading in front of the kind of undersexed men who watch this crap."
"You'd be fine with those outfits if they were selling pantyhose."
"Only if they're Topaz. That's a big account for us."
"Sometimes I feel like you don't take my career seriously."
"It's hard to take something seriously that isn't serious."
Sally moved toward the TV and turned the volume up. When it became evident Megan wasn't coming back, she decided just to stay on the floor in front of the set, clenching and unclenching her fists with the tension. It turned out that Spock was supposed to be married (or maybe he already was married? That part was confusing.) That didn't seem like a thing for him to be so upset about. The woman was very pretty (although if Megan had been here, Sally would have been sure to say that Megan was prettier, which was a thing she always liked to hear, and besides, in Sally's opinion, she really was that pretty.)
It would be kind of weird to have Spock's wife on the show every week, but not in a bad way. Sally had wondered if Lieutenant Uhura got lonely on the bridge without any other women, which was one of the reasons she had started to imagine the story of a new Starfleet officer who would come to sit at the console beside Mr. Sulu. She was named Hallie Francis, had blonde hair and grew up in Anaheim, because (Sally was proud of this idea) Starfleet Academy had been built the site of Tomorrowland, Sally's favorite part of Disney. She was not yet sure if Hallie should fall in love with Captain Kirk, or turn out to be his long lost daughter (how old was the Captain, anyway? Older than Dad?). But she had brought her marble notebook from home and planned to work out the details tonight after the new episode. She had actually, briefly, been disappointed when her imaginary blonde did not materialize on screen. T'Pring wasn't exactly what Sally had expected, but she might be interesting.
But then, it seemed like Spock would have to stay on the planet with his new wife, and that was clearly not acceptable. Kirk was his friend – Kirk kept saying it like that; "Spock, I'm your friend" – and the show couldn't go on without both of them. Then Kirk and Spock were set to fight each other and somehow (Sally wasn't clear on how it would work, but it obviously would) this would fix everything and Spock could come back. Preferably without T'Pring who didn't seem to like him much, after all.
Sally didn't especially care for the fights on this show, most of the time. But now Spock and Kirk were fighting each other, and Sally's fingernails were digging into her palms and then –
That couldn't be right. Bones was saying that Kirk was dead. The Captain was dead and his first officer would have to resign in disgrace, and Spock hadn't even been married although not being married was supposed to be the thing making him crazy. Sally rubbed desperately at the tears leaking from her eyes. If Megan had stayed, Sally could have asked her to explain that it wasn't true – could it be true? The show had just come back and she had waited all summer. She rocked back and forth, sitting on her hands and then –
It wasn't true. Spock was giving a resignation speech, and Kirk came up behind him, grinning. He was fine, Bones had helped him play a trick, so it only seemed he was dead. Sally felt foolish because she should have known; it was TV and by end of a TV episode, everything got fixed. Yet at the same time, she felt jubilant. Kirk and Spock were all right. They were clapping each other on the back, and smiling. Spock had smiled, had grabbed Kirk and exclaimed, "Jim!"
"That's enough TV for tonight," said Dad, coming into the living room. Sally realized that she hadn't heard Megan's voice for some time.
"I was already turning it off." She flicked the knob, but her back to her father. "Did Megan go to bed?"
"She'll be all right. She just gets upset easily these days, because being a quote unquote actress isn't working out the way she wanted it to. Can you please look at me while I'm talking to you?"
Sally turned around and Dad frowned, seeing her tear-streaked eyes. He leaned forward, put his hands on her shoulders, and said, "This is a rough patch, honey, but we'll be all right."
"No no." She shook her head. "I know you and Megan are happy. I know it's fine. It's just the show that made me cry."
Dad cast a confused look at the set. "Was it that sad?"
"No," Sally said firmly. "Not at all. It was the best show I have ever seen."
In bed that night with her notebook, Sally glanced at the few heavily crossed-out sentences about Starfleet's Hallie Francis, and considered. Maybe she could have married Spock and kept him from having to fight the pon farr in the first place.
But that all seemed to miss the point.
Sally flipped the page over and started fresh.
"Spock had never thought he could be so happy about anything, but then he saw that Jim was alive. Jim, who was his friend, the best friend he had ever had. After the pon farr on Vulcan, nothing would ever be the same."
Then she tapped the pencil on her chin and tried to decide what would happen next.