Journeys of the Mind

 

Chapter 41

 

 

 

 

Chapter 41

 

Endings and Beginnings, part 1

 

 

 

After the informal celebration dinner in the mess hall, Buck sat quietly in his room, listening to music, the same music that he and Wilma had commented on the night before, the time before his memories came back.  He thought the thoughts of then and added to them the memories of his life since coming to this century and he was filled with wonder.  And to all that, Buck felt the emotions that had almost overwhelmed him since he had seen Wilma on board the Titan.  Why, of all the memories, the emotions and feelings of his past, why was Wilma the only thing that had been able to persist past that block the aleshizaren had built in his mind?  He thought of her coming into his room a few nights ago, one tray perched on top of another, smiling and yet hiding so much pain.  The emotions of that night replayed themselves vividly, neither enhanced nor diminished by the return of his memories, only there, sweet as well as bitter.  He had known that something had been wrong, and had felt something almost akin to panic when she had been ready to leave without talking to him.  When she had told him what had happened to her on Mendalis, he had almost cried with her.   How he wished he could take that pain from her heart.  

Even now, Buck, with the totality of his memories intact, thought of how close he had come to losing her on Mendalis.  And he tried to think of life without Wilma Deering.  He remembered the first time he had been face to face with her in New Chicago and he smiled.   Oh, man, what an impression I made then! he thought derisively.  And he remembered that she had not been able to shoot him when he disobeyed her command and left the city with Twiki and Theo.   He also remembered the hurt on her face when he had rebuffed her and gone with Ardala on her shuttle.  He remembered his life in the twenty-fifth century and in none of it was Wilma absent.  She was part of his new life; she was part of him.  Her voice, her deep, expressive eyes, her fragrance, her touch, her love….    

Suddenly, Buck felt he was drowning in her presence, and Wilma wasn’t even in the room.   The music played on and suddenly Buck was conscious of the words.

I need you                   

Like the flower needs the rain

You know, I need you

Guess I’ll start it all again

You know, I need you

Like the winter needs the spring

You know I need you

I need you’

 

He needed her, all right.  Buck thought of that time back on Earth when he thought he was going to die but hadn’t.  Afterward, he had wanted to take this relationship slowly, to be sure.  Sure of what?  That they loved each other?   But he loved her.  The confirmation, if he had really needed any, was when he had felt that love even when he had amnesia.  What was he waiting for?   He felt sure that Wilma loved him, too.  She would have to, if she had stuck with him these past two years, indulging his impulsiveness and peculiarities.

Buck also remembered a conversation with Hawk.  “I miss Koori,” his friend had told him that last time on Throm, that time when they had visited her burial place.  Before all this evil that was Erik Kormand.   Hawk’s grief was not only palpable; it had almost overwhelmed him.  “I miss her so very much.  And I will continue to miss her.” Then Hawk had paused.  “Some well-meaning human suggested that it would be easier if I had not known Koori.”  Buck remembered that the thought, unvoiced and brief before he had dismissed it as absurd, had occurred to him as well.  “But to not have had her in my life at all?  No.  I could think of nothing more tragic than never to have known Koori, my beloved.  I would only have half a soul without her, only be half a person.”   

Now Buck fully understood what Hawk was saying.   He felt the same way about Wilma.  But marriage would change things, wouldn’t it?  For the most part it seems to have done that on the Searcher.   The Searcher was an exploration ship, of those few who were married, their spouses were either land bound or effecting transfers to become such.   Or on other ships away from each other.   Although he had not heard of such, there must have been some unwritten rule discouraging marriage-type relationships on board a vessel such as the Searcher.  Or rather discouraging service aboard an exploration ship like this if one was married.  Indeed, such seemed to be the case in the Directorate, as well, although it was not something he had thought about until now. 

He remembered what it was like in his day.  When military couples married, one of them, usually the woman, was encouraged to leave active duty.  Encouraged?  Ha!  Not sure that is the right word for the almost forced resignation he had heard of some CO's doing, Buck thought.  How could he ask Wilma to do something like that?    Buck remembered his promise to Jennifer so long ago.  She had been afraid for him, afraid that something would happen to him if he stayed in the space program.  Never mind that it actually did, he thought wryly.   But he had promised her that he would resign his commission; become land bound.  At the time, that had seemed viable.  Now?  No, now he found joy living among the stars, seeing things he could never have imagined five hundred years ago.  And what about Wilma?  She was born to be in space.  Her father had been in the Directorate Defense forces; a high-ranking commander, like Wilma had been.  Her mother had worked for the Directorate, planet-bound.  How could he ask Wilma to throw all that out? 

Sighing, Buck got up, turned off the music and paced.  The return of his memory didn’t seem to change that at all.   He was still pacing.   When he passed the small port that looked out at the stars, Buck paused and gazed in wonder.   He knew Wilma loved this life as much as he did.  Was it fair to ask her to give it up?  He sighed and walked over to his bookshelf, grabbing a book without even checking to see what the title was.  With book in hand, Buck lay down on his bed and opened it up.    Half an hour later, he realized that he had turned pages, looked at words, but had not the slightest idea what he had just read.    

Sighing, Buck put the book down and lowered the lights in an attempt to sleep.  But he couldn’t.  He had not only slept enough to make Rip Van Winkle proud the past few days, he just couldn’t relax right now.  Finally, Buck rolled over and looked at his clock.  Late.  Or early, however you wanted to look at it.  He got dressed in something casual and left the cabin.  It was too late to see Wilma; too late to do anything but roam.   So he roamed, meeting no one until he walked onto the observation deck and almost ran into Wilma. 

“Buck, what are you doing up?” she asked in surprise.  

“I could ask you the same thing,” he replied with a smile.  Now that she was in front of him, he wasn’t sure what to say.   He felt awkward and shy.  Me, shy?  Come on, brother Buck, this is Wilma.  This is the woman you have worked with for two plus years.  This is the woman you care for….   He sighed.   Just come out with it, stupid.   “Wilma, unless you were heading to bed, there is something I need to ask you.”

Wilma looked at him curiously.  “I am having trouble sleeping, so I’m not going to bed anytime soon.” 

“Then let’s sit under the stars,” Buck suggested with a slight smile, pointing to the large view port.    They walked to a lounge chair and got comfortable.  This time when Buck sat close, Wilma just leaned toward him.  There was no reticence.  He put his arm around her and enjoyed the scene in front of them, the stars gliding slowly past as the Searcher traveled at sub-light speed. 

Wilma felt comfortable, but wondered what was on Buck’s mind.  When he had told her he wanted to ask her something, she had felt a thrill shoot through her body, a tingly anticipation that made her anxious, but somehow happy, too.  She squelched it, not wanting to pull too much meaning from anything Buck said.   Still, she had to work to keep from trembling in anticipation.  “Something on your mind?” she finally asked. 

“Well, yeah….” 

His voice trailed off and Wilma wondered if maybe what she was hoping for was actually what she most dreaded. 

“Uh, Wilma, what would you do if you couldn’t do this?”   His free hand waved at the stars before them.

“This?   I’m not sure I understand,” Wilma said, puzzled.  His question had not been at all what she expected. 

“I mean here, on the Searcher.  You know, exploring, saving people, playing nursemaid to galactic dignitaries.” 

“Oh.  Well, I never thought about it, Buck.  I have always wanted to do these kinds of things.  I grew up expecting to go into space,” she explained.  Buck leaned back and sighed.  “Why do you ask?” she queried. 

He ignored her question.  “I feel the same way.  Sort of.  I mean, I never dreamed that I could ever do anything like this, but now that I have, I can’t think of anything else I would rather do.   I would miss it tremendously.”

Wilma was even more puzzled and even a bit alarmed.   “Buck, why are you even asking this?” 

“Well….   Uh, you know how we talked back on Earth.”  He stopped, gazed at her, then looked out at the stars.  

“You mean after that plague incident?”

“Yes.   You know, when I said I wanted both of us to be sure.” 

“I remember, Buck.”  Wilma held her breath, waiting, but he didn’t say anything else for several minutes.  “Are you?” 

“Huh?” he asked, his look slightly distant, as though he was focused on something else.

“Are you sure?”

There was another long silence.   Then Buck cleared his throat and gazed deeply into her eyes.  “Yes, I’m sure,” he said, his voice husky with emotion.  “Are you?”

“Buck, I was sure even then.  I just didn’t want you to feel pressured, to feel forced into anything,” she said softly. 

“I kind of figured….”

Wilma wanted to throw her arms around him and kiss him soundly; she wanted to give voice to her happiness, but she saw something in his face that made her hesitate.   “But there is something else,” she coaxed gently. 

“Well, I, uh….” 

Wilma looked at him in amazement.  It wasn’t often that Buck was tongue-tied.   “If you have a concern, why don’t you tell me.  I’ll understand.”

“Well, I was raised to believe that if a man and a woman loved each other, were committed to each other, they married.  Now maybe this was, uh, is considered old-fashioned, but that is just the way my parents brought us kids up.”  He stopped and then sighed, pausing as though trying to gather his thoughts.  “But if marriage means that you would have to leave this life you love, then I could never ask you to give it up.  I mean, I want you to be happy, Wilma.”  He again gazed into her eyes.   “I mean we could live together, and you could do what you enjoy doing and we’d still be together.”  He stopped abruptly.  “Am I making sense?”

Wilma shook her head.  “Not totally,” she replied, thinking she might have an idea of what was troubling Buck, but wanting to make sure.  There were still times when his assessments of the present were very much colored by his past.   But her heart and mind were still taking in the ‘confession’ of sorts of his love for her and it made it hard to concentrate on what he was saying now.  

“Wilma, since I have been here, in this century, I mean, working for the Directorate, and the Galactic Council, I haven’t seen families, married couples.  Everyone is single.  Or almost everyone.   Even Dr. Huer.  And then there’s Devlin.  He married his sweetheart, but where is she?  Yeah, on another ship.  Occasional visits.   And I heard that he’s putting in his request for transfer.  A planet-side job, I guess.  I don’t know if you or I could be happy doing that.  Not now.” 

Now Wilma realized the total implications of what Buck was saying.  And it made her feelings for him that much stronger.  Tears threatened and she blinked.  Tears of happiness.   About time, Buck Rogers.  “Buck, I don’t know what the custom was in your day, but we are both on this ship, married or not.   I don’t see that changing even if our marital status changes.  And Devlin is transferring to his wife’s ship, not to a planet-side assignment.  You didn’t hear more about it because that was when you were dealing with the amnesia.”  She paused.  “But sometime I would like to know where you heard that he was going to be planet-bound.”  She smiled, stifling a laugh and then pulled him even closer to her, kissing him soundly.  Finally, she leaned back and said, “There are some perks to being the former head of the Earth Defense Directorate.  In some things I can certainly have my way, if it was needed, which it isn’t.” 

She kissed him again on the cheek.  “And Dr. Huer was married, until a few years ago.  His wife died.  He has children, too.   He just didn’t discuss his personal life that much.  Her loss is still painful to him.   And surely you haven’t forgotten Eli and Harriet Twain.  They served together for years.”  She paused and then smiled mischievously when Buck’s eyes widened as the implications of her statement sank in.  “Can I assume you are proposing marriage to me?” 

For his part, Buck was happily considering all that she had said and her last question took him a moment to assimilate.   When it did, he could have smacked himself.  This was not in the least what he had planned.  The stars were here, but there were none of the other things . . . the romantic setting, the ring.  He frowned. 

Wilma misinterpreted what she was seeing and felt the touch of alarm creeping into her joy.  “Buck, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to be so forward.” 

Seeing her anxiety, Buck quickly reassured her.  “No, no, I was thinking of a time long ago.  My mother told me how Dad proposed to her.  Quirky, but romantic.” 

Wilma knew that Buck was going somewhere with this, but though she was impatient, she was also curious.  “What did he do?” 

“Dad was always a physical man.  He was into sports.  When he could, he liked to go out on Lake Michigan fishing.  Even in the winter.”  He looked at her.  “Ever go ice fishing?”

“Not been fishing at all.  I’m afraid Lake Michigan is not totally safe yet for that kind of thing.  What in the world is ice fishing?”

Buck laughed.  “Well, ice fishing on Lake Michigan wasn’t that safe then, either.  Didn’t usually get cold enough to freeze something that big enough to safely go out on the ice.  He usually did his ice fishing up north.”  He saw Wilma’s interested, but slightly puzzled look.  “Ice fishing is usually done in January or February, when it’s been cold enough for the surface of a lake to freeze solid enough to hold a portable fishing shack.  Uh, it’s like a shed.  You pull one out on the ice, saw open a hole and fish from inside.  I had heard of some die-hards with bunks and TV’s in their shacks.  But the shack served to keep you from totally freezing your butt off while allowing one to indulge in a fishing obsession.” Buck paused as though remembering.  “Dad used to go up to a lake in Wisconsin, sometimes in Minnesota and that’s where he would spend hours with his pole, his radio and an occasional beer.  Sometimes he went with his buddies, especially after me and my brother and sister were born, but when they were dating, he always asked Mom to go with him.” 

Wilma was not sure if her mental images were correct, and she didn’t wonder now where Buck got a few of his interesting twentieth century peculiarities, but she was also intrigued with the story.  “Did she?”

“Not at first,” he replied with a smile.  “But Mom said he persisted and finally, one hellaciously cold Saturday in late January, she bundled up and went with him.  They drove a few hours and then when they got to the lake, he loaded her and the supplies up on a snowmobile.  ‘What do you have in all that, James,’ she asked.  ‘Just some things we need,’ he answered.”  Buck laughed, remembering his mother’s story.  

Wilma couldn’t help it; she smiled.  She had no idea what a snowmobile was, still only the funniest notion of ice fishing, but she felt the warmth of the story and wanted to hear more.

He continued, “They got out there to a fishing shack that was really only large enough to accommodate one person comfortably and Dad pulled all the bundles into the shack, leaving Mom holding the pole.  She said all she remembered at the time was how cold she was, literally shaking-in-the-boots cold.  But he wouldn’t let her in right at first.”

“But if she was cold….”

“Oh, she was cold all right, and beginning to get mad as hell, but about the time she was ready to explode, Dad finally invited her in.  When she got in, she saw a tiny table, candle lit in the middle, bottle of champagne, two delicate wine glasses next to it.  While she stood in the doorway shocked, Dad took the pole from her hands, set it in the corner and led her to a small camp chair next to the table.  Then he got down on one knee, right there on the ice, took her hand and asked her to marry him.  Had the ring and everything.  She said she cried, but all Dad would say after that was, first, ‘You’d better stop crying, Edna, ‘cause the tears will freeze.’ ”  Wilma laughed.  “Then he said, ‘Well, will you?’ ”  Buck’s eyes were distant, reflective.   Finally, he focused back on the present.    “Mom said it was so special what he did.  Although she was cold, and even though a shack on a frozen lake didn’t seem that romantic to most, she said it was one of her favorite memories.”  He looked out at the stars.  “I wanted to make my marriage proposal to you something special.  Something to remember.  And it comes out like this.” 

Although Wilma wanted to reassure him that this was a special moment, that she would remember it, she also realized just how important all of this was to him; this idea of a formal proposal of marriage.  And a ring? What is the significance of that before the wedding?  But undoubtedly he would tell her that when the time came.   After all, it had taken two years for them, especially Buck, to come to terms with his feelings for her.   She couldn’t take away from his desires just because she was impatient.  “Buck Rogers, every moment I spend with you is special.  You make me feel special.”  And she meant that sincerely.  Her dreams, nightmares of Erik still occurred, but only occasionally now.  She still sometimes felt like she was being stalked when she walked alone down the corridors of the huge starship, but not like before.  She knew her recovery wasn’t complete, but with Buck’s, and everyone else’s help, it was certainly getting there.   She gazed deeply into his eyes and saw warmth and love in their hazel depths.  And she felt a deep and abiding gratitude in her heart that Buck had put into words his desire to be part of her life forever.   So great was her joy that it made it hard for her to continue, but she took a deep breath and went on.  “Buck, I am sure that before your father proposed to your mother, she knew he was the person with whom she wanted to spend her life; it was only a matter for the right moment to come along.”  She laid her head on his chest.  “I am confident that when the right moment comes along, you will propose marriage in a way that feels right to you.”  She paused.  “And I will be as touched as your mother was.”     

He picked up her left hand and studied it.  “But not totally surprised.”

“Knowing you, I believe I will be thoroughly surprised,” she quipped, kissing him, softly at first, then with more passion.  Her soul was afire with the depths of her love and gratitude. 

 

 

 

 

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