Time and Again

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-three

Wilma and Buck

 

 

Again, Buck stood outside Wilma’s door.  He had been astonished at the length of time he had spent with the federation representatives on board their ship answering questions.  Having just arrived back in New Chicago, Buck found that it was already morning.  But then if I listened to my body, I would have known what time it was, Buck thought.  He was totally exhausted, but didn’t bother with sleep or breakfast; he just wanted to see if Wilma was better.   

This time when the door opened, Wilma’s aunt stepped out to meet him. She folded her arms and smiled her Mona Lisa smile.  Buck knew Wilma was recovering rather well; he had taken the time to ask Theo that question on the way back to New Chicago.  “So what did I do now to deserve the hallway greeting?” he asked sardonically.

Nora Deering laughed lightly.  “Nothing really.  I gave Wilma your message, and, although neither of us had the slightest idea of what a hockey puck is, she understood enough to worry about you.  She finally fell asleep a couple of hours ago.” 

Buck nodded, knowing how much his body had craved sleep when he was fighting the virus.  Even now, he felt ready to crash on the nearest corner of the floor.   “Any chance of seeing her.  For just a few minutes?”

“If you promise not to wake her.”

Buck took a deep breath.  “If I promise, can I see her privately?”

Nora laughed.  “Now what would you do privately with someone who’s sound asleep?” she teased.  Before Buck could say anything, she added, “Yes, in fact, Wilma is out of danger and knowing you might come by, I was going to ask if you would mind staying with her while I take a break.  You know, stay with her just in case.”

Buck’s eyes widened in surprise.  He wasn’t expecting that concession, at least not from Wilma’s aunt.  “Uh, sure.  Gladly.”

“I assumed you’d say that.  I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”

Buck smiled in relief.  Finally!  “Take your time.  Wilma will be in good hands.”

Nora’s mouth quirked and she gave Buck a funny look.  “That’s what I’m afraid of,” she said, turning and walking down the corridor.  “Oh, and nice shiner,” she added. 

He touched the bruise under his left eye.  For a brief moment, Buck pondered this latest battle he had lost against this woman.  He could only conclude that he had met his match, as he pushed the access button and entered Wilma’s room.  Suddenly, it dawned on him what she had meant and what he had said and he paused in silent embarrassment.  Then his embarrassment turned into amusement and he smiled.  Let Nora Deering believe what she wants.  Buck stood by Wilma’s bed.  The soft light in the room accentuated her features and for a few minutes Buck stood silently watching as she slept.  He pondered how things had changed in the scant space of a little over a week and was glad that she was sleeping.  It gave him a chance to sort through things.  Not that anything he had said the day before had changed; he really did feel something special for Wilma Deering.  It was simply that he didn’t know how to deal with it.  Even though Buck had relinquished the sometimes iron tight grip of his past and it no longer haunted him, he was still a child of the twentieth century, a product of the previous thirty-two plus years of his life.  He couldn’t change that, nor did he really want to. 

He had been accused of rushing into danger, but he didn’t want to rush into something as important and as permanent as marriage.  And he did consider marriage as something permanent.  That was why he had not rushed into marrying Jennifer, even though several of his friends and relatives and hers as well had pushed them to do so.   Buck knew that Jennifer had wanted that, too.  But there was something that had held him back.  Even now as he compared Jennifer to Wilma, he could see differences.  He had promised Jennifer he would quit the space program after the Ranger mission was over, but had he really wanted to?  Would he have been happy on the ground after he had returned?  At the time he thought so.  But now?

No, in retrospect, he didn’t think he would have been happy, at least not after a while.  Buck remembered how quickly he had jumped at the opportunity to join the Searcher crew.  It afforded him even more chances to explore different places, worlds; to fly, to see things he could not have even dreamed possible five hundred years ago.   Of course, had there never been a mishap on the Ranger, he wouldn’t have known what it was like to fly through a black hole/vortex, never have experienced a star gate, met all of the peoples he had met.  Maybe because of that he would have been happy with his feet firmly planted on the ground, but who knows?  The holocaust happened and with it went millions of dreams and hopes.   He considered himself a very lucky man, having this second chance . . . a second chance at everything.

He gazed back down at Wilma and brought his mind back to his comparison between Wilma and Jennifer.   The simple fact was that Wilma accepted him pretty much as he was. 

Wilma smiled softly in her sleep and Buck smiled with her.  How much do I love her? he asked himself.  Is it something like the filial, mutual respect bonds he had allowed during the past year and a half?  Or is it the romantic kind of love that he was sure Wilma felt?  The kind of love he had had with Jennifer.  His hand hovered over hers and he felt something stirring inside him.  He felt happy to be close to her, to be in the same room.  It is at least something in-between the two, he thought and was content.  A loving relationship had to be built on respect and he and Wilma had plenty of that for each other. 

Regardless, Buck didn’t want to push something potentially wonderful and exciting into a realm of regret.  He had seen it with his brother and vowed never to go through a relationship like that, even if that meant he never got married.  Frank had known, been positive, would never have doubted his love for his high school sweetheart.  They had courted, become engaged, married and divorced within two years.  The delirious happiness had turned to bitter ashes within the first year after their vows.   Frank and his sweetheart had fought as bitterly as they had loved.  Buck knew there was more than what he had been privy to about that relationship, but what he had seen had made him decide that he would be totally sure before he made a commitment like that.  And so, for ten years, he had not made any commitments at all.

Buck relaxed on the lounge chair in the corner of Wilma’s room.  It was not big enough for him when he stretched out, so he tried to find a more comfortable position on his side.  He smiled, remembering his solution to avoiding his brother’s fate.  He had played the field during his Air Force days, sometimes fast and loose, and he had received the label as a ladies’ man. Somehow, without trying to, even here in the twenty-fifth century, women seemed to be attracted to him.  While it was flattering, it was also disconcerting at times. 

Despite how uncomfortable the chair was, Buck found himself dozing, but he didn’t fight it.  As he fell asleep, he hoped that Wilma would understand how he felt.  He didn’t want to hurt her.  Heaven knew how much he had done that in the past, all those times he had rebuffed her advances.  He fell into a deep and exhausted sleep, thinking about what a special woman Wilma was and how grateful he was to have been able to get to know her.

 

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Wilma woke to the smell of a very hearty breakfast and her Aunt Nora standing next to her bed, a broad, conspiratorial grin on her face.   Making a motion to not say anything, Nora pointed to the lounge chair in the corner.  Looking past her aunt, Wilma was astonished to see Buck curled up on the chair, fast asleep.  Or curled up as much as it was possible for someone his size to curl up on one of the guest chairs. 

“Let him sleep,” Nora whispered.  “When he came by a few hours ago, he looked exhausted.  I decided to take pity on him and let him stay even though I knew your sleeping prince was ready for a long nap.” 

Wilma noticed the bruise under one eye.  “He’s all right, isn’t he?” she asked softly. 

Nora smiled and nodded.  “Apparently there was a slight altercation on the Lagrithian ship.  But aside from the trophy of the schoolyard scuffle, he only needed sleep that he had been depriving himself of.  He’s not totally over this, you know, even if Captain Buck Rogers thinks he is.  I’ve also ordered his breakfast brought here for him when he wakes up.  And I have left word that you are not to be disturbed.  I will be in later to give you your next dose of medicine, but in the meantime, I think you and Captain Rogers have a little bit to discuss when he awakens.” Nora said in a matronly voice.  She leaned over and gently kissed her niece on the forehead.

“Don’t let him sleep too long or by the time he wakes up, you’ll be ready to sleep.”  She turned to go and then paused.  “Oh, and don’t push too hard, Wilma.  Just because you already know what he hasn’t quite figured out yet, don’t rush anything.”

Wilma sat up in her bed, alternately gazing at Buck and down at her breakfast.  He looked so peaceful, she hated to wake him up rattling her dishes around, but somehow she didn’t think that would disturb him.  And if it did, she’d simply share it with him. 

As she ate, she pondered her aunt’s words.  Don’t push.  Frustratingly enough, she didn’t think she had, and then Wilma realized Nora meant.  She meant pushing now—now that Buck was seeing things a bit differently.  Buck Rogers, you are so exasperating!  You seem so comfortable around women, all women.  But only up to a point.  He said he had left the past behind, truly left it behind, but how could someone born and raised five hundred years in the past completely leave his past behind?  He was ready to become a full citizen of this century, but his psyche, everything about him was couched in his previous life.  That was part of what made Buck Rogers exciting and what had allowed him to save Earth not once but several times. 

No, she loved him with all the passion of her being, but she would feel him out, go with their relationship as fast or as slow as he wanted or was willing.   She would not lose him because he felt forced into something he was not ready for. 

As she drank her coffee, Wilma laughed softly.  Here she was, thinking like someone with experience and she was a twenty-eight year old bachelorette practically married to her job, only having a few prior relationships, none of which were stellar. 

Buck stirred and yawned, stretching and then coming to full wakefulness when he almost fell off the chair. 

Wilma couldn’t help herself; she began giggling.  He gazed at her sleepily, groaning softly as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. 

Wilma’s amusement changed to concern.  “Are you all right?”

“Getting old, Wilma.  Too old for this crap,” he said with a wry grin. Then he, too, became serious.  “How about you?  Hear you were pretty sick.”

“Yes,” she said, putting her cup down on the table next to her bed.  Her eyes filled with remembrance.  “How did you bear it, Buck?  Out there without a hospital or….”  She paused and looked at her hands.  “If I had only known.”

“I had Njobo and Twiki and Theo.  I was very fortunate.  And I don’t remember everything.”  Buck got up, still stretching, and strode over to her bed.  “And if you had known you would have found me and gotten sick.”  He paused.  “But you got sick anyway.”  He gazed into her eyes, his countenance filled with deep sadness.  “Wilma, I am so sorry I didn’t get some kind of warning to you.  That you had to go through this.”  His voice lowered almost to a whisper.  “I’m sorry.”

She took his hand and stroked it.  “Buck, please, there is nothing to be sorry about.  You did what you had to do.”  She felt tears forming in her eyes and blinked, trying to control herself.  Her focus on him wavered and then, as she blinked again, came into sharp clarity.  “Buck, when I thought you were dead, I . . . I thought everything worthwhile in my life had gone with you.  I . . . I’m sorry, Buck.  I don’t mean to be so emotional.  I . . . just . . . it’s just that before you came, life was so structured, so ordered.”  She took a deep breath.  “I had accomplished what no other woman in recent history had achieved.  I had power and prestige.  I commanded hundreds of pilots and had the lives of many thousand people in my hands.  I felt good about that, proud of what I had accomplished.”  

“As you have every right to be, Wilma,” Buck interjected.  “I dismissed your position as a fluke at first, but I saw quickly that you earned it.  You worked your butt off to get that post.  Dr. Huer and the Computer Council chose well when they picked you,” he added softly. 

“But I was lonely.  Oh, I could have dated all kinds of men, and I did a few, but I always felt they were not being honest with me, or like they didn’t know exactly how to act around me.”  She felt a flash of anger at the memory.   “I hated that!  I want people to be honest even if it hurts.   I want people to be themselves.”

“Wilma, sometimes that can be a dangerous wish.”  Buck smiled, thinking back on his own memories.  “And sometimes a person may not totally know him or herself.”

Wilma looked questioningly at him.  She saw how tired Buck still was and she moved over, patting a place on the bed for him to sit down.  With a smile, he did so, turning to face her.

“Wilma, I didn’t know myself those first days.  I didn’t know you those first days.” 

“But afterward?” Wilma watched Buck and wondered if she was digging into something that he would rather not discuss.

“Part of the time I was on autopilot, Wilma.  The other part of the time I was immersed in the wonder and amazing grandeur of this new life of mine.”  He paused.  “I knew within days what kind of a person you were.  I knew that you cared, that you were more than this rock hard leader you presented yourself to be.”  Wilma looked ready to bristle and Buck continued.  “I didn’t mean that in a derogatory way, Wilma.  The best commanders have to put on a rock hard demeanor to hide the sometimes difficult decisions they have to make.  I knew that you cared.  Your dedication to Earth told me that….”

“But it’s not enough….”she began. 

Buck held up his hand.  “Wilma, it may not have seemed enough then, but it is the foundation for loving an individual.  I could see it, Wilma, and it flattered, um, still does flatter me that you focused some of that love of your fellow man to me.”

Wilma felt a sinking inside her, knowing where Buck’s reasoning might be going, but she couldn’t help her feelings.  “Buck, I’m sorry, but it wasn’t flattery.  It’s real.  I love you in all the ways a person can love another person.  I love your spontaneity; I love how I feel when I’m around you.  I love you no matter how you feel about me.”  She stopped suddenly and her eyes widened in shock at her blatant, bold revelation.  But now that she had started—“You have made me feel like . . . Buck, you aren’t the only one who emerged from a sort of hibernation.  I felt, and feel like a new, fresh person.  I love you, Buck Rogers, whether you love me or not.  I love you so much that I will not hold you.  I will leave you alone if you would prefer.”  Her breath caught and she stopped, shocked even further at her words.

Buck looked slightly embarrassed and he said nothing for a moment.  Wilma cursed her lack of self-restraint. 

“Wilma, I knew or suspected how you felt for some time, but I couldn’t, wasn’t able to respond.  I . . . it wasn’t you.”  He reached up with one finger and wiped away a tear.  “I have realized how much you love me, Wilma.  If in no other way, by the respect you have shown me.  You have always been there, caring but not overbearing.  You have respected what I am, not what you imagine me to be.  And you still are.”  He paused and sucked in a deep breath.  “Leave me alone?”   He smiled softly, his eyes filled with that boyish humor of his, mingled with something else.  Wilma said nothing, hoping that what she was seeing was not in her imagination.

“No, Wilma, I don’t want to be left alone, especially not by you.”  Now he took her hand, enveloping it in his strong fingers.  “Wilma Deering, you are a warm, caring, loving person….”   He paused again and laughed as though at a private joke.  “Hell, Wilma, right now, I’m trying to see what I found so endearing about Jennifer.  She isn’t half the woman you are.”

“What?” Wilma choked out.  “What did you say?”

“You heard me,” Buck replied.  “I do love you.  I love and respect you enough that I don’t want to rush you into anything that you might regret later.”  He bent over and kissed her softly and then with more passion.  When he pulled back, Wilma still felt the shock of his revelation.

“Wilma, I spent over ten years trying to find a meaningful relationship.  I never really did.  I mean, well, what I had with Jennifer was real, but I think now, it was never meant to be.  I don’t know.  I think I have something meaningful now, but I want to be sure.  I want to be very, very sure.  I have to feel that it’s not only right for me, but more especially, for you, too.  I’ve hurt you enough in the past year and a half.  I don’t want to hurt you any more.”  He looked into her eyes and Wilma felt the tears again.  “Will it bother you if we go easy with this relationship?”

Now Wilma smiled.  Deep inside, she wished he would ask her to marry him right now, but she would not pressure him.  Just for him to acknowledge her feelings was enough for the moment.  And to acknowledge his own as well.  “No, Buck, it won’t.”  She paused and began giggling.  

He cocked his head and asked, “What’s so funny?”

“Oh, Buck, this is a horribly wicked thought.” 

“Go for it.  I’ve had a great many wicked thoughts in my life.”

She laughed out loud.  “I bet.  But I was thinking that you have gone over five hundred and thirty-plus years.  What’s another one in the scheme of things?”

Buck just stared for a moment.  Then he began laughing heartily and continued laughing until tears rolled down his cheeks.  He took Wilma’s hand and raised it to his lips. 

As if on cue the door slid open and Nora Deering came in with a breakfast tray. 

“Is she always this obtrusive?” Buck murmured as he kissed her hand before releasing it.

“If you’re going to woo my niece, Captain Rogers, you need some energy,” Nora said dryly.  “And you both need your medicine and a nice long nap.”

“When does the Searcher leave?” Buck grumbled.  Wilma laughed merrily.

 

 

 

 

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