Refolding the letter with shaking hands, Claire slid it back inside the envelope and stuffed it into her handbag. It had been glaring at her from the desk as soon as she had walked in, so she had determinedly opened it and read it immediately, and now sat down heavily in her chair.
That’s the worst of it over now, she encouraged herself, I’ve done what I know is right, made a clean break with Cameron and accepted I’ll probably lose my job. There’s nothing more to think about, it’s in God’s hands now.
She picked up a pile of medical charts and took them over to the photocopier, trying not to let her mind dwell on yesterday afternoon. Being alone with Cameron and following through with what she’d decided to tell him was the one of the hardest things she’d ever done.
Despite the emotional distance she’d put between them it had been nearly impossible not to give in to him again and she’d had to force herself to not really listen for fear of being persuaded against her will.
The worst part was that despite what she’d done to him it was obvious he still cared for her. Was it deceitful to make him think that I don’t care for him anymore? she wondered, feeding the sheets of paper into the machine, No - for his sake and mine, I need to act the way I should be feeling, even if can’t get my emotions to toe the line.
The glass doors slid open and Claire was aware immediately that it was Cameron, but did not turn around until the photocopier had finished. He was waiting beside her desk as she returned with the pages in her hands.
“You found the letter?” he asked gently.
“Yes, thanks,” she replied brightly, as though it were any piece of routine correspondence, “But I’d like you to clarify a few things for me which I didn’t think to ask yesterday afternoon.”
“With Tyrone being out of bed this morning I expect he’ll come up and see me as usual. What were you expecting me to do?”
Cameron frowned, “Claire - this was never meant to be some kind of ban on speaking to Tyrone - cutting off your friendship would be disastrous for him. The restriction is purely about religious issues. This is between you and me only, Tyrone shouldn’t be involved at all.”
He hesitated, seemingly reluctant to continue. “I didn’t realise at the time, but Tyrone already knew about yesterday morning's debacle when I asked him if he wanted to make any formal complaint.
It now makes perfect sense why he was so defensive on your behalf and refused to discuss it with me, he obviously felt responsible for getting you in trouble over the matter. I must say I’m disappointed that you told him about it - the last thing Tyrone needs at the moment is to be used as some kind of pawn between us.”
His accusation hit Claire like a blow to the chest, and it was several moments before she could regain her breath to answer.
“How could you think I’d ever do anything to hurt Tyrone?” she spluttered, dismayed to feel her eyes stinging with threatened tears, “If you had any idea how hard I worked to play down what he’d heard, and to make it clear it had nothing at all to do with him!”
“So you didn’t tell him?”
“Of course I didn’t! But it was the first thing he spoke about when I went in to see him at lunch time . . . and he did feel bad because he’d been given a very complete account of my humiliation at your hands.”
“So who . . .”
Claire had had enough time to regain mastery of herself and answered coldly. “Who do you think? Neither you nor I spoke of it to Tyrone - and only one other person was present. I don’t know whether there were any more links in the chain this time, but I passed Julie on her way out of Tyrone’s cabin at lunchtime and he was in possession of all the details, and by the end of sports Chris knew all about my visit to Ty.”
“What do you mean this time?” Cameron asked, genuinely perplexed.
“Are you honestly unaware of the free flow of information through this place? It always ends and starts with Chris, it’s just the intermediaries that vary. Haven’t you ever guessed how he’s passing the time when he’s not where he’s meant to be?”
Claire caught herself with a sudden pang of guilt, “No - I’m sorry - I’m just being nasty. I’ve got no real grounds for saying that.”
Cameron was quiet for a few moments before answering, “No - I’m sorry. I should have known better than suggest your involving Tyrone. You’ve certainly never given me grounds to doubt your confidentiality. My complaint is the opposite - you keep far too much to yourself.”
The warmth in his tone left Claire in no doubt that he was referring to far more than purely work, and she turned her shoulder to him as she reached over for the stapler, hating how good it felt to be on Cameron’s side against Chris for even a moment.
“Yes - well, I’m far too busy for idle gossip,” she said briskly, thumping the stapler through the sheaf of papers, “I’ll bring your mail up to you later, I’m running behind this morning. If you’ll excuse me, Lynette’s waiting for these.”
She crossed behind him without giving him time to reply and ran up the stairs to Lynette’s office, dropping them into her tray before heading straight back down, determined not to meet him in the upstairs hall.
Claire had only just returned to her desk when Tyrone came in, and she was glad that she’d checked with Cameron about keeping the normalcy of their friendship. She was still determined he would not stop her sharing her faith with Tyrone, but it would help no-one for her to seek trouble unnecessarily.
“Hey, Ty!” She greeted him with a cheerfulness she didn’t feel, “It’s good to see you up! How are you feeling?”
“Glad to be outta my room, that’s for sure! Being stuck in bed was too much like when I was in hospital straight after it happened. Don’t feel quite so bad when I’m up.”
He wheeled himself close beside her, leaning his elbow on her desk. “I read through John in that Bible last night - didn’t understand heaps of it - but it seems just like what you said. You said you learn to understand it at church?”
Claire nodded cautiously.
“So will you take me with you?”
She shook her head slowly. “No, I don’t think I’d better. It’d be great if you’ll come, but you'll have to arrange your own way there. If I was to take you it might seem as though I were forcing you into it.”
“Like what Doc Alex said yesterday about you telling me about God if I didn’t want to hear it?”
“Exactly - but if you happen to turn up at my church by your own free choice, no-one can have a problem with that. Once you’re there I’ll be more than happy to make you at home and everything. Have you gone out before?”
“Yeah - once, to a mate’s party.”
“How did you arrange that?”
“Got a day pass, rung up a special taxi.” He grinned at her, “I get it - I got to do it all myself if I want to go. That way no-one can say you made me do it. Where is it, though, and what time do I go?”
“What happened to your initiative? I bet you can find out everything you need to know from someone you’ve talked to in an internet chat-room,” she smiled, glad he was following her lead in the spirit of a challenge.
“Yeah, I’ll do that,.” he glanced up at the clock, “Dave’s on-line around now, isn’t he? I’ll go give him a buzz.”
Tyrone pushed back from the desk with the enthusiasm of a man on a mission, “Thanks, Claire - just save me a spot on Sunday, right!”
Claire watched him go, a mixture of joy and dread. Tyrone’s interest seemed nearly too wonderful to believe, but at the same time she knew it was only a matter of time until Cameron found out what was going on.
She could have warned Tyrone not to say anything to anyone, but she had been serious when she’d told Cameron she would never involve Tyrone in their argument. Besides, who knew who else might be drawn to God if Tyrone felt free to talk about his plans? She couldn’t risk thwarting that just to save her own neck.
The morning dragged interminably, Claire feeling each minute ticking by as she waited on tenterhooks for discovery. By a combination of luck and guile she’d managed to avoid both Cameron and Chris until lunch time, when Cameron came into the staff room while she was pouring herself a cup of coffee.
Part of her wanted to turn straight around to see by his expression whether he knew what Tyrone was arranging, but she lacked the nerve, and continued stirring her cup as if she didn’t know he was there.
“Thought it was you I heard going past,” Cameron spoke from behind her, “I’m glad I caught you. Are you managing okay today?” The concern in his voice pierced her heart like a knife, and she knew with guilty certainty that he hadn’t heard about Tyrone’s plans.
“Uh-huh,” she replied, and added sugar to her cup, stirring the spoon round and round.
“Look Claire, I don’t hold anything against you over this business - I’ve done what I’ve had to as your boss - but I assure you it’s nothing personal. I think I understand where you’re coming from and that you’ve only done what you thought you had to, too. Can’t we respect each others differences and put it behind us?”
Claire was tempted to end the agony of her suspense by confessing everything to him right there, but two things apart from the fear of his reaction held her back. With Cameron’s concern for how his handling of the issue would appear to outside authorities, she couldn’t trust him not to intervene to keep Tyrone from attending her church. And if he knew and allowed it - Cameron’s position probably would be indefensible if Chris reported the matter.
While there remained even a chance they might make it to the end of the day without him finding out it she had to keep it to herself.
“It’s . . . not that easy,” she said finally.
“No? But I hoped it might be.” She could hear the disappointment in his voice, “Yesterday I thought you just wanted to hurt me, but I appreciate now that wasn’t the case, and I want you to know I care for you as deeply as I always have. Can’t you just sit down and talk through things with me?”
Still stirring sugar into her coffee, she forced herself to remember that she couldn’t trust him, that he had made it clear that his professional reputation came before serving God. She couldn’t find her voice to answer, but shook her head sadly.
His sigh filled her with regret. “I see.”
The silence following his answer was nearly unbearable, but Claire refused the pressure to turn around, breathing out only when she finally heard him leave.
She looked down at her cup trying to remember if she had put any sugar in. Deciding not, she added two spoonfuls and lifted the cup to her lips, nearly gagging as she took a large sip. She tipped the whole thing down the sink in disgust, and realising that she was already late for lunch left her empty cup behind and headed reluctantly toward the dining room.
Her plan had been to avoid Cameron by lingering in the staff room until she was sure that he had been seated at lunch and then seat herself as far away as possible but as she entered the dining room she realised that he had frustrated her careful arrangements yet again, as he had not come straight in to lunch as she had anticipated.
Claire took her place in the queue, feeling awkward and self conscious. Surely it was her own imagination that everyone seemed to be looking at her differently - after all, no-one else besides Lynette and Chris had any reason to suspect the turmoil she was in.
Loading her tray without any interest in the menu, she sat down at the first empty table she saw, both relieved and anxious when Tyrone joined her a few minutes later.
“Hey - why didn’t you tell me about the warning letter thing this morning?” he demanded as he slapped his tray onto the table.
“Because it’s none of your business,” Claire tried to answer light-heartedly, inwardly outraged that somehow he knew about the letter.
“Yes, it is! It’s all my fault! If I’d never said all that stuff you wouldn’t be in trouble! Can I make them take it back?”
“Of course not - it’s got nothing to do with you,” she whispered, painfully aware of Chris and Cameron’s voices behind them as they entered the room. “Look, Dr Alexander gave me a particular direction which I didn’t like so I ignored it. Apparently I can’t do that - so he had to give me an official warning. It’s not a big thing.”
He looked at her through narrowed eyes, unconvinced. “That’s not how I heard it! I’m really, really sorry. I never wanted to make trouble between you and Doc Alex. No wonder you didn’t want to pick me up for church - is it better that I don’t come?”
Claire could hear Chris coming closer and fought the desperate urge to beg Tyrone to drop the topic, forcing herself to seem relaxed.
“No! All everyone wants is for you to feel free to do exactly what you want to. I’d love to see you there - but not if you’re only coming to make me happy.”
Tyrone grinned, “You’d be proud of what I got sorted this morning. D’you know you can even order taxis over the internet?”
With a loud scrape Chris dragged a chair to the other side of their table, and she watched with dread as he and Cameron set their trays down opposite her and Tyrone. She stole a glance at Tyrone, inwardly groaning at the mutinous look in his eyes. She realised that her glib answers hadn’t satisfied him, and offered up a silent prayer that he wouldn’t pursue the topic with Cameron now.
“Different table today, Claire?” Cameron asked, acting as though everything was perfectly normal. While she wouldn’t speak to him in private, he was obviously confident she would in public.
“Nothing like variety,” she replied curtly. The sympathy she had felt for Cameron when he had offered her a truce in the tearoom had been replaced by anger at discovering he’d allowed her letter of warning to become common knowledge.
She’d never forgive him if Tyrone decided not to come to church because he was worried about the repercussions for her. And she had no doubt Chris knew all about it too - no wonder he looked as though everything was right with the world again.
“How’s the butt?” Chris asked Tyrone with a wink.
“Great! This new cushion is excellent - reckon I’ll be right to stay up all day.”
“But we wouldn’t want to risk it, would we?” Cameron replied gently, “Not when you’re doing so well. I’ll make you a deal - go back to bed after lunch like we arranged, do the same again tomorrow - and as long as the nurses don’t find anything dreadful on Saturday night, you can be up all day Sunday.”
“Yes - but I’m not making any promises about next week, okay? I’ll have to see how things are when I return after the weekend.”
“Cool - I’ll start making plans for the weekend!” Tyrone grinned, and Claire’s heart leapt into her mouth with fear at what he would say. But before he said anything else, Cameron was addressing himself to Claire.
“Julie’s gone home sick with the flu. Would you mind running her tennis session this afternoon? Rod will be there, but he’s not too familiar with the setup.”
“Fine,” she answered, thankful she wouldn’t have to be with either him or Chris. He probably expected that she should be grateful that he was giving her the responsibility rather than the new physiotherapist, but it was a little bit late for him to start thinking about her credibility now.
A couple of other patients joined their table, and while talk drifted on to numerous topics, Claire rebuffed Cameron’s attempts to draw her into the conversation. She would have left the moment she’d finished eating, but caution warned her not to leave Tyrone unattended with Cameron and Chris.
With the mood he was in, she wouldn’t put it past him to champion her cause with them if she left them alone. Finally Tyrone excused himself, saying he was going to squeeze in one last game of pool in the rec room before being sent back to bed, and Claire made her escape as well.
Everyone else was already waiting in Cameron’s office when Claire returned sweaty and breathless from the tennis session.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” she apologised, quickly taking her seat, “I was just showing Rod where everything goes away.”
“That’s fine. How did the session go?”
“Terrific, thanks. We’ve got some real talent in those guys - it was a treat to have the run of things!”
She met his friendly smile before catching herself and remembering how things stood. “Have you already got the files from downstairs?” she added more stiffly.
Cameron nodded, indicating the pile on his desk and told her to take her time.
She bit her lip, realising that Cameron had gotten the better of her again by flattering her with the chance to prove her ability in organising the sports activity. She quickly opened up the computer program, and looked up.
“Okay, I’m ready when you are.”
The meeting moved fairly quickly, with no great discussion over most patients, and Claire was thankful that she hadn’t had the time or leisure to become overly nervous by the time they reached Tyrone’s file.
They all seemed to be handling the matter as tactfully as possible, and Claire gratefully recorded Lynette’s report that Tyrone’s skin was no worse for the morning up, and Chris’s understated comments regarding his encouraging progress with the physio team. Cameron picked a slip of paper and flicked it meditatively with his finger.
“Tyrone’s put in an application for a day pass for Sunday. Depart: After breakfast. Return: Before tea. Reason for absence: Visiting friends. Transport: Pre-booked Wheelchair Taxi. Reliable Personal Care Assistance Available: Yes.” He looked up, “I guess he’s making sure I don’t change my mind about letting him out of bed. Have we got any concerns?”
Claire forced herself not to smile at Tyrone’s ingenuity, somewhat flattered he was obviously prepared to rely on her assistance once at church.
“Just that it seems to have come a little out of the blue - he won’t do himself any harm, will he? Remember the only other time he had a day pass?” Lynette asked.
“Yeah, we got a call to collect him - blind drunk,” Chris recalled, coughing as he chuckled, “Wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it’s not as likely over Sunday lunchtime as a Friday or Saturday night.”
“And he hasn’t been out on his own since that memorable occasion. I’m inclined to give him the benefit of trust - after this week, a taste of freedom and responsibility might do him a world of good.” Cameron looked towards Claire, “Can you add anything?”
Claire was ready for this and answered coolly, “I think you can all understand if I decline making any further comments regarding Tyrone. Even so, I would tell you if I had any concerns whatsoever about him.”
There was a few moments pause while Chris sneezed several times and blew his nose noisily, then Cameron picked up another slip of paper.
“Tony’s put in for another weekend pass for home - there have been no problems in the past - so that’s fine. Lynette, if you wouldn’t mind dispensing his medication for the weekend before you leave?”
He turned to Chris, who was still wiping his nose vigorously, “Go home to bed, mate - you’ve obviously caught the bug, too! And don’t you dare come in next week until you’re over it - as it is I’ll have to disinfect the office as soon as you go!”
“The place would fall apart without me!” he protested, getting up.
“We’ll have to take the risk!” Cameron laughed, “Have a good weekend, Lynette.”
Silence descended as Chris and Lynette left his office, and Claire bent her head to her work. There was no need for them to keep up the pretence now they were alone. A few minutes later she walked up to Cameron with the printed minutes.
“Are you still here?” he asked with a smile, “Not running away from me this time?”
Claire’s expression was grim. “No, I wanted a word with you. I would have thought that the letter of warning I received was a confidential matter. Apart from the trifling issue of my privacy, I thought we were agreed that we were going to keep Tyrone out of all this.”
“By lunchtime he knew all the details. I can only assume everyone else did too. I know I certainly didn’t mention the matter to anyone.”
“Claire - I am so, so sorry.”
“So did you make a public announcement, or just tell Chris?”
Cameron put both hands up to his face. “Just Chris. He came and saw me after you left yesterday, still after your blood. I honestly thought I was acting in your best interest by letting him know that I was dealing with you appropriately. Until this morning when you pointed out to me Chris’s role in yesterday’s events I’d never stopped to consider what I told him . . .”
“So long as you’re seen to be acting appropriately, Cameron.”
“No, Claire, talking to Chris was ill-judged. I have wronged you.” The expression in his troubled blue eyes made it clear that this was no mere formal apology, “Will you forgive me?”
His entreaty headed straight for her heart but Claire glanced it off with an indifferent shrug.
“No need to apologise on my account, if I’m clear in my own conscience I really don’t care what anyone thinks of me. I’m just sorry it’s put more pressure on Tyrone,” she said, turning on her heel and leaving before he could say another word.
She had just come out of the stairwell when she heard the phone ringing. Checking first that it was an external call, she picked it up, surprised to hear a familiar voice.
“Hello, Justin! What a lovely surprise!”
“I’m glad I caught you - the answering machine was on earlier so I thought you might have left.”
“No, just the daily conference. What are you up to?”
“Jenny and I wondered if you and David would like to come for dinner on Monday night? It seems like ages since you’ve been round.”
“It does, doesn’t it? That would be wonderful.”
Claire was truly pleased. Justin was one of the few people who had taken the time to really get to know David over the years, and was probably his only real friend. She was also very fond of Jenny and their two little girls - and she was sorry that she always found it so hard to find time to spend with them.
“Will you tell Jenny that I’ll bake something for dessert?”
“Certainly, I hoped you’d say that! Is Cam still in his office? I was hoping he’d be free on Monday night too - Jenny tells me there is something of a special friendship developing between you.”
Claire tried to swallow, but she knew it was too late to back out now. Besides, it wouldn’t be fair on David to refuse and invitation he’d certainly accept. She tried another approach.
“But he wouldn’t be able to come, he has to be on site through the week.”
“It’s not a problem. He’s been over several times - we’re so close it only takes him a few minutes to get back if he were to get an urgent call.”
Claire resigned herself to the inevitable, “Thanks, Justin - I’ll put you through. See you on Sunday.”
She connected the call to Cameron’s phone without announcing it, and picked up her bag and keys. Hopefully Cameron would be as keen as she was to avoid what could only be an intensely uncomfortable evening.
© R Brown 2005