The afternoon session was just finishing up when Cameron returned to his office after seeing Tyrone. As soon as Claire had left his office that morning he’d spoken to Tyrone’s nurse and was quite satisfied that Chris had definitely exaggerated her report of Tyrone’s emotional state. That being the case, it had seem wisest not to interrupt Tyrone’s planned physio session, so he’d waited until after lunch and spent most of the sports period talking with him.
Although Tyrone was certainly still subdued and preoccupied, he was no longer as aggressive or uncooperative as the day before. He insisted that he was fine, and that the nurse had taken his comments that morning too seriously. Yes, Claire had spoken to him about religion, but it was no big deal, and he wasn’t worried about anything now.
He’d slept most of the day before so it had been a long night - and when the nurse had come in he was feeling pretty low - but everything was okay now, he’d eaten his lunch and the physio had said she was happy with his work.
When Cameron explained that Claire had done the wrong thing by speaking to him about her beliefs and that he should feel free to make a formal complaint, Tyrone had seemed almost panicked, and became so agitated in her defence that Cameron had dropped the subject, seeing no point in adding any more pressure.
The sound of the staff room door closing at the end of the corridor brought Cameron’s thoughts back to the present and he turned towards his doorway, hoping it was Claire on her way with her coffee.
He’d not seen her again since that morning, though with Chris still stomping about with a face like thunder he was not surprised that she hadn’t had her lunch with him in the dining room as usual.
Correcting her in front of Chris was the last thing he’d have chosen to do, especially at this early stage of their relationship, but surely even Claire would understand that he couldn’t let his feelings for her interfere with his responsibilities as her boss. She’d looked like a small child who had been hit unexpectedly by someone she trusted, but he thought he’d been able to reassure her of his commitment to her when they had been alone afterwards.
Claire paused in the doorway for only a moment before taking her seat behind the computer, but it was long enough for Cameron to realise with disappointment that things were far from back to normal between them.
“It’s all going to be okay, Claire,” he said, moving around the table towards her, “I’ve spoken with Tyrone and I really can’t see the issue going any further now.”
“When did you see him?” Her question was quick and wary, and she didn’t look up from the computer screen as she continued opening the program.
“Not long ago, during sport.”
“What did he say?”
“That he’d overreacted and made a big deal over nothing - but mostly he was worried about not getting you into trouble - and he certainly didn’t want to make any kind of formal complaint.”
Cameron watched Claire with concern, surprised that she showed no sign of relief. She hadn’t met his eyes once since entering the room, and now that he was closer he saw how pale and tense her face was, and how rigidly she held herself. His heart twisted with sympathy for her, and he reached over to place a gentle hand on her shoulder, wanting desperately to restore her confidence in him.
“It’s really going to be okay, Ginger, we’re over the worst of it already,” Cameron said, not expecting to feel her stiffen beneath his touch. Her remoteness was palpable and chilling, but before he could say anything else he heard Lynette’s tell-tale jingle and he withdrew his hand and moved quickly back to his place. Claire was obviously more hurt than he’d realised, and he regretted not having been more aware of that earlier.
“How are things?” Lynette asked breezily as she took her seat, but from the way she glanced at him and Claire, Cameron had no doubt she knew exactly what had happened that morning. She had just put her cup down on the table when Chris burst into the room, the door slamming against the wall with such force that both Cameron and Lynette jumped in their seats.
“I honestly believed you were going to deal with this, Cameron!” he shouted, advancing toward him, “Obviously you never had any such intention!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Your fanatical girlfriend! She’s gone straight down there and done it again!”
“Chris - unless you settle down we are not going to be able to sort anything out.”
“Mate - I doubt anything’s going to get sorted out anyhow!”
“Sit down, Chris, and tell me exactly what you are saying that Claire has done.” Cameron demanded, strangely aware that unlike him and Lynette, Claire hadn’t even blinked when Chris had entered the room. She had remained as still as a cold marble statue, with no outward reaction. Obviously she had been expecting this.
“Like you don’t know! She’s gone straight back down to preach at Tyrone again - as if she didn’t do enough damage yesterday!”
Cameron's eyes flew to Claire. "Did you? When?"
"Yes," she replied without hesitation, "I went to see Tyrone during my lunch hour."
"You didn't know?" Chris asked, his eyes narrowed.
"No, of course I didn't know!" he snapped back, staring at Claire in disbelief. No wonder she was edgy when she saw me - and I felt so sorry for her!
"You said you were going to sort her out!" Chris accused, before Cameron had even a moment to marshal his thoughts, "Neither of you are taking this seriously at all!"
Cameron glanced from Chris's red face and burning eyes to Claire's stone-like expression, feeling as though he had parachuted unarmed into the middle of a warzone. He made a last ditch attempt at averting the imminent battle.
"Chris, I certainly did not ban Claire from all contact with Tyrone. I saw him straight after lunch, and since he made no complaints whatsoever about her, it's more than likely you're jumping to conclusions - "
"If you think she was down there talking about the weather, mate, you're blinder than I realised!"
"Then let's get straight to the bottom of this!" Cameron's voice conveyed his mounting annoyance, "Claire - was any part of your conversation with Tyrone a continuation of yesterday’s discussion about religion?"
"Yes, it was," she replied unapologetically, her eyes meeting his unwaveringly.
"Didn't you listen to a word I said to you this morning?" he demanded, stunned into an angry response. "I thought I made it perfectly clear that imposing your beliefs on my patients is totally unacceptable!"
"Yes - you made yourself perfectly clear - but I saw Tyrone today at his own request, " she answered calmly. "He rang me this morning and asked me specifically to speak to him about what we had discussed yesterday."
"Whether he asked or not doesn't make a scrap of difference at this point!" Chris yelled, "After browbeating him into believing he's going to hell you've put him psychologically under your power! He hasn't got - "
"Hold it, Chris!" Cameron cut in, his mind still reeling from the shock of Claire's deliberate betrayal.
He was at a loss to understand why she would publicly defy him in this way - especially after all his efforts to smooth things over for her - and he was aware that his angry reaction was as much a response to his wounded feelings than to the issue itself.
How would I deal if this situation, if it was Chris or Lynette instead of Claire, he asked himself before shaking his head in disbelief, Neither Chris nor Lynette would do something so stupid!
“But if Cameron saw him straight afterwards, surely Tyrone would have told him if Claire was putting that kind of pressure on him,” Lynette interjected, clearly disturbed by the escalating animosity.
“You reckon? He’s hardly going to feel confident about complaining to Cameron about something she has done,” he snorted derisively, “Everyone here knows exactly how things are between the two of them!”
“That’s enough. Let’s get to the bottom of this,” Cameron cut in, jolted into realising that despite his confusion he had to somehow regain control before the argument became any more out of hand, “Claire, I want you to tell me exactly what you said to Tyrone at lunchtime.”
“No. I have no intention of telling anyone the details of the private conversations I have during my own lunch hour.” she answered, her voice quiet but inflexible, “It is nobody’s business but my own.”
“Whether it’s during your lunch time or not, the conversations you have with any of my patients are very much my business.” Despite being rocked by her calm defiance Cameron's voice was every bit as determined as her own, “I explained to you that the ethics of our situation demand that our professional responsibilities must transcend our own beliefs.”
Claire shook her head, “But I have no professional responsibility at all.”
“As if that wasn’t totally obvious without her spelling it out!” Chris exclaimed triumphantly, “In her own words she has no professional responsibility! I’ve been telling you that all day!”
Cameron shot him a withering look, but Claire ignored him and continued on smoothly.
“What I mean is that while all of you may have a professional responsibility, I don’t - I’m just the receptionist - I don’t make assessments, prescribe treatment, or write reports. I have no more authority over Tyrone or anyone else than the kitchen staff or the cleaners.”
With a sinking heart Cameron realised he was fighting a full scale war, and while he was still trying to recover from the surprise ambush, Claire was obviously prepared for battle - hers was no off-the-cuff defence.
“Whatever your particular role, Claire, you are part of this team. And as a team we are working together to try to do everything we can to help Tyrone. We simply cannot function effectively if you refuse to be accountable in your dealings with him.”
“We have been arguing about whether I’m part of this team or not since the first day I started here, and I still don’t agree with you that I am.”
“And just as I overruled you on the first day, I’m overruling you now.”
Claire took a deep breath, not in the least rattled and Cameron braced himself for the next offensive, but Lynette spoke first.
“Sweetie, I know how much you care about Tyrone, and that you’re only wanting to help him, but you’re just too close to him to see things objectively. We all understand that finding out he wants to take his own life really upset you.”
“Of course it upset me! When I spoke with him at lunch time yesterday he told me he was fully intending to end his life as soon as he had organised the details. I would have thought any alteration to that plan was an improvement! Not only is he - "
“You spoke to him at lunch time?” Chris asked quickly, and then turned to Cameron, “I had assumed it was much later in the day. How come you didn’t mention that to the Mental Health Team? Keeping that to yourself reeks of improper conduct.”
Cameron’s stomach tightened as he realised the full extent of the mistake he had made in involving Claire in the first instance. He was sickeningly aware of the potential ramifications of Chris’s line of thought and hoped he could deflect his accusation before it took hold.
“I didn’t mention it because Claire’s having lunch with Tyrone was never any kind of official delegation, Chris. She’d already arranged it with him purely as a social visit before any of us had any idea about the internet sites or anything else - but once we knew, it was a good opportunity for us to find out exactly what was going on with him.”
Claire raised her eyebrows, “That’s interesting. So at least at some point in this whole thing I was deemed to be acting in a non-professional capacity.”
Cameron turned to her, stunned that she was turning against him his attempts to save them both . He felt as though he were running through a minefield, as soon as he’d figure out some kind of strategy, another bomb was exploding in the opposite direction, while the cross-fire between his three colleagues continued over his head as he struggled to gather his wits.
“It may not have been a wise thing for Claire to do,” Lynette said soothingly, “ but has it really done any harm? As it is, the Mental Health Team didn’t get anywhere with him.”
“And why do you think that was, Lynette?” Chris shook his head at her, “By the time the Mental Health Team got to talk to him, she’d already filled his head with so much garbage that the professionals couldn’t help him! It certainly wasn’t part of their case management plan to have the poor kid subjected to that so-called christian poison.”
Lynette jumped to her defence, “No Chris, that’s not fair - Cameron is a Christian too, and we’ve got all the respect in the world for what he believes, but he never pushes it on anyone or lets it interfere with the Centre. I’m sure Claire meant well - it’s just there’s a big difference in the way they go about things.”
Claire looked straight at Cameron, the steely expression in her eyes leaving no doubt of her opinion as she spoke, “Yes - I’m beginning to see there is a very big difference.”
“I know you are trying to help, Lynette, but don’t. Claire’s motives are not up for debate,” Cameron snapped. “Everyone’s had their say now - but I’m not dealing with this by committee. It’s time to get on with the daily reports, I’ll deal with this myself later.”
Chris kicked back his chair in disgust, “As if you’re going to deal with this impartially!”
“What exactly are you implying?” Cameron’s voice was dangerously restrained.
“Come off it! Everyone here knows that girl has had you wrapped around her little finger since the first day she came here - but it is beyond the pale when it starts affecting the welfare of our patients!”
“You’re on very dangerous ground, Chris. If you are accusing me of acting unprofessionally you had better be very sure of your facts.”
“Like that is it now, mate?” Chris spat the words out over his shoulder as he strode
towards the door, “I’ve had a gutful of professionalism today!”
“Turn around and sit right back down at this table. No-one walks out on me without being answerable.” Cameron’s tone was deadly, “Unless you are telling me you are incapable of doing the job I employ you to do.”
Lynette sat in open-mouthed suspense, and it seemed as though no-one breathed until Chris finally turned around and returned to his seat, glaring at Cameron.
“Let’s finish with Tyrone,” Cameron opened his file with a pretence of normality, although his voice was still brittle with anger, “Can we possibly get him out of bed for at least a few hours tomorrow?”
Lynnette let out a slow breath, taking a while to answer. “Yes, I think it would be a good idea. Chris was organising a custom made gel cushion for his wheel chair . . .”
“Chris?” Cameron prompted.
“Yeah - it’s worth a go.”
“Okay - up after breakfast, back to bed after lunch,” Cameron closed the file with relief and moved on to the rest of the patients.
Claire said nothing for the rest of the meeting, her presence only marked by the rapid clicking of the keyboard where she sat shielded by the computer screen. It was torture to Cameron to restrain his desire to vent his anger and disappointment toward her at the horrendous mess she had created, and when he closed the last file he didn’t even try to hide his intentions.
“Chris, Lynette,” he looked across at them impatiently, wishing they were already out of the room, “Just go.”
Chris departed with uncharacteristic speed, but Lynette lingered in the doorway until Cameron looked up, her fixed attention making him aware of his jutting jaw, and the subconscious action of his thumb clicking the button of his silver pen in and out in an incessant tattoo.
There was a silent entreaty in her gaze, and he lay down his pen and let out a slow breath, noting her nearly imperceptible nod before she turned and finally followed Chris. It seemed a great effort to unclench his fists and pick up his bottle of mineral water, but he had taken Lynette’s hint that making himself unwind before confronting Claire could only help.
There has to be a reason, he told himself, forcing the water down an unwilling throat, there always is with Claire. I have no idea why she is doing this, but I have to get past the personal level. Shaking sense into her and straightening things out between us feels more important than anything, but I can’t let that take priority. Everything that happens in this Centre is my responsibility, and I have to solve this problem somehow.
Cameron was surprised when without any of her usual delaying tactics, Claire stood up from her desk and walked straight over to him, pausing expectantly after placing the minutes on the table. He nodded to the chair nearest him and she sat down without demur.
There was none of the turbulent fire in her that he would have expected after such deliberate defiance, but the icy stillness he encountered was far more unsettling. She sat rigidly upright, her ankles crossed tightly and her arms folded closely against her body, her body language making it clear there was no hope of reaching out to her.
“Why have you turned against me, Claire?” he asked quietly, making an effort to keep the anger and disappointment out of his voice, “You’ve taken everything I did to shield you from the consequences of your actions and used it against me.
"By ignoring everything I said and seeing Tyrone again, you couldn’t have found a more effective way of ensuring that Chris takes this straight to the Board, Tyrone’s case manager at the Mental Health Unit and anyone else he can think of. You’ve certainly given him fair cause to - and the only reason he wouldn’t pursue it would be out of respect for me, and he doesn’t have a lot of that at the moment.”
He paused, trying to fathom what was going on behind the mask of her expressionless face, “I just don’t understand why you went behind my back like that.”
“Why did you give me no other option?” she countered smoothly, her brows arched. “If you won’t give me your consent to share the gospel, then I am forced to go behind your back.”
“I thought we sorted all this out this morning! It’s not a question of not being allowed to share the gospel - it’s a question of appropriateness. Even the Bible makes it clear that you don’t force the gospel on unwilling hearers.
I spent hours explaining the issues with you this morning, and if I’d known you still didn’t understand I’d have been perfectly willing to give you as much time as you needed until you did. Why didn’t you come back to me so we could sort things out?”
“I didn’t need any more time to understand that you’re not willing to stand behind what the Bible teaches.”
Her answers were so quick and confident they seemed almost rehearsed and Cameron found it very disconcerting.
“You’re wrong Claire. I’m perfectly willing to stand behind the gospel, but that does not mean I’m willing to authorise vulnerable and dependent patients being browbeaten into submission. It’s your whole approach which was wrong.
"What about the verse 'Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks for you to give the reason for the hope that you have, but do this with gentleness and respect'? At any point at all yesterday, did Tyrone ask you to tell him about your beliefs? No! And when you went ahead anyway, by your own admission, it was with anything but gentleness and respect.”
“According to you, I’m forbidden to tell anyone about God unless they ask first! How can that be when we’re told to be Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us? Yes, I agree that we aren’t to keep forcing the gospel when it is rejected, but we have to offer it first.”
“But not when you put someone in a position where they don’t feel free to reject it. In Tyrone’s situation it is like holding a gun to his head - he couldn’t have even walked away from you if he didn’t want to hear what you were saying, and as a patient here he is not autonomous - he has no power to oppose you.
"Chris is probably right that Tyrone doesn’t feel free to complain about you to me. All of those are factors I have taken into consideration when I decided it is not appropriate for you to speak to Tyrone about religion. I appreciate that you don’t accept that yet, but Tyrone is under my responsibility, it is my duty of care which is now in question, and even if you don’t agree with my decision, you need to accept that you must act under my authority.”
“No - I am first and foremostly under God’s authority. No man, not even my employer can countermand what the Bible says I have to do.”
She was answering his statements, but Cameron felt as though she wasn’t really entering into the meaning of what he was saying. For him it was deeply personal, but Claire seemed emotionally detached, as though she were an actress delivering someone else’s lines.
“So where does it end? Anytime you don’t understand or agree with my decisions you’re just going to be a law unto yourself?” he asked wearily, shaking his head, “No, it cannot work like that. You know you are welcome to challenge my decisions in private, but when you publicly defy my authority like you did today I have to take the responsibility for that. I now have no other option than that of official disciplinary action.”
“Fine. I’m perfectly prepared to accept the consequences of obeying God. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to go against my conscience even if you threaten me with dismissal.”
“That is the last thing I want to do! Can’t you appreciate the situation you have placed me in?” he demanded in exasperation, “Now that you’ve forced this issue into the public arena, I cannot just sweep it under the mat! What Chris pointed out is perfectly true, there is a very obvious conflict of interest and every action I take in this issue is going to be under incredible scrutiny because of our relationship.
"Especially because I am known as a Christian, any leniency I show you in the areas of our beliefs would be interpreted as you acting on my behalf. No matter how you see it, you are not acting independently.”
“There definitely is a conflict of interest - but not in the way you mean. If you’re using the nature of our relationship is an excuse for either of us to not be spreading the gospel, it is obviously the relationship which must be abandoned, not the gospel. The simplest solution is to make it very clear that I am acting independently of you in every sense.”
“No, that is not a solution at all,” Cameron answered firmly, refusing to be disconcerted by the unpleasant fear that gripped his heart.
Now he was back on familiar territory, it was so strangely similar to when she tried to end their relationship after the disastrous night with David. He wondered if now, as then, her own feelings were unchanged regardless of what she was trying to portray.
“It is neither mature nor godly to abandon our commitment to each other just because the going gets a little rough - "
“I haven’t made any kind of commitment!!”
“Yes, I am very aware that you have avoided doing that thus far, but it doesn’t change the reality of our relationship. This is a basic communication problem, it is something we need to learn to resolve together, not to run away from. We would still have to work through this even if you were just my employee - "
“As far as I am concerned I am just your employee! This is far more than just a basic communication problem. From the start I thought your first commitment was to God, but at the very first test I find out that you are more concerned about protecting your career and your reputation than a person’s eternal soul! There is certainly no future for us now that I know that you’re . . .” she broke off, apparently losing her nerve to finish the script.
“That I’m a hypocrite?”
She tilted her chin upwards in an imitation of bravery, “Well, that’s how it looks from here.”
“I’m sorry you see it that way. We both have a different understanding as to what is the biblical action in this situation, but when it comes down to it, I am in charge. I have to take responsibility for the decision, you have to accept my authority.
"I am fully confident that we can resolve this misunderstanding, but in the meantime it has to be clear that you cannot disobey my directions. I cannot manage this centre with staff who don’t respect my leadership.”
He sighed, running his hand through his hair, “I’m sorry Claire, I have no alternative than to give you an official warning. It’s the first step in the disciplinary process - three warnings about the same issue and then dismissal - and a copy of the letter will be placed on your file. But it doesn’t have to go any further than this. If you’ll work with me instead of against me we can sort this all out.”
His words hung in the air unanswered for several long moments before Claire asked, “Is that all?” Her words were unconcerned, but her voice was clearly strained.
Cameron nodded, “Yes. You’ll have the letter in the morning.”
She returned his nod mechanically and left him staring at the empty doorway. After a few minutes he wheeled over to his desk, switched on his lamp and reached across for the Personnel Handbook. He was still looking blankly at its pages when he heard Chris’s footsteps approaching from along the corridor and stopping at his door.
“I’m not answerable to you, Chris.” Cameron said without looking up.
“You’re answerable to the board.”
“I’m perfectly aware of that - and I am quite prepared to answer to them.”
Chris entered the room and stood looking down at Cameron.
“You’re not going to do anything about Claire, are you? She can go completely against you without a fear in the world - she knows you won’t sack her!”
Cameron turned to face him, feeling incredibly weary.
“Unlike some of us Chris, I don’t have the option of going off the deep end every time someone acts in a way I don’t like. I couldn’t dismiss her for what happened today even if I wanted to - there are procedures that have to be followed.”
“So nothing’s going to be done?”
“Not if it doesn’t happen again. Claire will have her first official warning in writing by tomorrow morning.”
Chris raised his eyebrows in surprise.
“She knows.” Cameron replied flatly and turned his attention back to his paperwork. He was aware that Chris hovered by his desk for some minutes before heading back down the corridor toward the lift, but Cameron was too bogged down in his thoughts to discuss anything further.
Only when he heard the lift doors close did Cameron close the handbook and push back from the desk, shaking his head in frustration. It seemed that in one afternoon he’d lost the respect of a friend he’d valued for years and the affection of the one woman he’d give his life to possess.
Forcing himself to concentrate he began composing Claire’s letter on the computer, feeling as though he was writing out the death warrant for their relationship. As her employer he knew he had no other option, but as the man who loved her, he was still determined to fight for her affection with everything he had.
He wondered if her attack on him was driven purely by conviction, although a mistaken one, and perhaps beneath it she was longing for their reconciliation as much as he was. He would just have to find someway of convincing her of that, which was not going to be easy while putting her under workplace discipline.
© R Brown 2005