Cameron arrived very early for dinner at the Muxlows, but after enduring another day of being held at arms length by Claire he felt he needed a little time to unwind with his friends before Claire and David arrived. Justin and Jenny had just sat their two little girls down for their dinner and Cameron was pleased to take his place at the table and blend into the background of family life.
The solid brick home had originally been Justin’s grandfather’s, and although archways had been added to connect the living areas it still retained the close and intimate atmosphere sometimes lacking in more modern open plan homes.
The rain which had been drizzling all day had finally subsided and although the wind was still howling outside, inside the Muxlow’s home it was warm and cosy, and little by little Cameron could feel the greyness of his spirit receding.
It had been a strange day of artificial normality where everyone had carried on as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred the previous week. Tyrone was out of bed and playing the part of prize pupil in every one of his sessions, as though the reality of him being on the verge of suicide only days earlier had been part of some strange dream.
Chris had indeed come down with the flu over the weekend and stayed at home, and Cameron had to admit to himself that it had been a relief to have one less source of tension. He still felt bad about disclosing to Chris about Claire’s warning letter and although she gave every impression that she hadn’t given it another thought there was nothing he could do to bridge the polite chasm between them.
What hurt the most was the wariness in her eyes whenever he was with her. He couldn’t understand why she would fear him in any way, especially when he’d taken such pains to set her at ease.
At least she hadn’t cancelled out of dinner. When he’d accepted Justin’s invitation he’d been sure Claire would not come as well, but when she was leaving his office that afternoon and he had asked if he’d see her at the Muxlows she’d replied with a bland “Yes.”.
Cameron felt small hands on his arm and looked down to see four year old Eliza standing beside him. He smiled and pulled her onto his lap as Justin opened up the Bible for their family devotions.
As usual the girls had been shy of him when he first arrived, but after only a short while they were vying for his attention. After a brief sulk that her older sister had beaten her to Cameron’s lap, two year old Amanda made her peace and clambered up onto her Daddy’s knee for the Bible reading.
With his little daughter nestled in his arms, Justin looked every inch the traditional husband and father. His thick dark hair was just beginning to grey prematurely at the temples and a conservative tie showed above the brown cardigan that his wife had knitted years ago.
Although Justin was only a few years older than Cameron - he’d studied at Bible College before beginning medicine - he seemed many years older in maturity and stability. Was it the result of growing up in a strong Christian home, or was it the responsibility of family life that had made him seem so much more the grown man than the boy Cameron sometimes still felt himself to be?
Cameron looked across at Jenny, catching her eye and smiling. Her blonde hair was caught back in a simple ponytail, and as she leaned awkwardly back in her chair it was clear there was no room on her lap for either of her daughters to occupy.
Jenny Muxlow was very short and softly rounded at the best of times, but at eight months pregnant she reminded him strongly of a melon with arms and legs. Nothing in married life seemed to have aged her in the least, she was still every bit the idealistic and child-like girl they had met in first year at Uni.
Back then she had seemed the most unlikely medical student, but somehow (no doubt with a lot of help from Justin) she’d graduated, and had found a niche in General Practice with a devoted clientele of mothers and young children.
Justin had just closed the Bible when the doorbell rang and Cameron felt himself tensing. As always he was looking forward to seeing Claire, and he was sure that at an intimate dinner party of five it would finally be impossible for her to continue to ignore his existence.
Justin deposited Amanda onto Cameron’s lap beside her sister as he went to open the door, but the moment they saw Claire, both girls leapt down and ran to her, tugging on her skirt and talking excitedly.
She was casually dressed with a cream shirt tucked into a denim skirt, but the fullness of her skirt and the simple belt encircling her slender waist emphasised the femininity of her figure in a way that her usual pants and sweaters could not equal.
Cameron ached deep inside just looking at her, and it strengthened his determination to draw her back to him.
“Stand back and let Uncle David in first,” Claire gently chided the girls, holding a large cake container in one hand and opening the door fully with the other as her brother entered behind her.
Closing the door, Justin took the container from her, but not before she retrieved a smaller container from on top of it.
“These are just for you two,” she said smiling and crouching down show it’s contents to Eliza and Amanda, “for tomorrow.”
“Thank you Aunty Claire,” they chorused and began begging her to put them to bed and read their story.
“Certainly - if it’s okay with Mummy,” she replied readily and looked up at Jenny as she waddled towards her.
“You’d be welcome to . . . . but wouldn’t you rather go and sit down with Cameron while I put them to bed?”
Up till then Claire seemed to have not noticed his presence in the room, but now she glanced up at him with a perfunctory smile and nod of acknowledgment.
“No, that’s fine - we’ve been together all day after all - I’d love to put the girls to bed. Now, whose turn is it to pick the first story?”
As Claire disappeared down the hall with the girls dancing around her Cameron swallowed the sharp pain of yet another rejection, though he realised in fairness that she probably would have done just the same even if he hadn’t been out of favour with her. The love and affection in her eyes as she spoke with the girls was unmistakable, and even in his frustration he appreciated this further insight into her character.
Jenny excused herself to finish preparing dinner and David and Justin joined him in the lounge room which adjoined the dining area. Since their first meeting, Cameron had spent some hours researching disabilities like David’s and felt much better equipped to communicate with him and also had several topics in mind to talk about that might interest him.
As it was, Justin seemed nearly as capable as Claire in understanding David’s speech and the conversation was not nearly as awkward as he had anticipated. Both men seemed relaxed, and if Claire had told either of them about their estrangement it certainly wasn’t apparent. Claire herself didn’t reappear from the girl’s bedrooms until the dishes were being carried to the table and he realised again how very clever she was at avoiding him with no-one else being any the wiser.
When they were all assembled around the small dining table, Justin said the grace and Cameron had just picked up his cutlery when Jenny smiled at him from where she sat opposite him.
“You must be just as excited as Claire about Tyrone wanting to become a Christian and coming along to church for the first time yesterday.”
Cameron’s fork clattered onto his plate like a bomb.
“But you knew didn’t you . . . I didn’t mean to say the wrong thing,” Jenny faltered, her face puckering at the look on his face, “Surely Claire told you?”
“No, she did not.”
He glared across the table at Claire, where she sat beside Jenny, continuing to feed her brother in apparent nonchalance. David was at the end of the small dining table with Claire on his left hand and Justin on his right, beside Cameron - but right now everyone’s eyes were on Claire in confusion.
“Oh, I mustn’t have mentioned to Cameron,” she said, looking up at him, her expression one of almost believable innocence, “Isn’t it great - Tyrone came along to our church yesterday. Apparently he got all the details about our church when he was talking to David over the internet.”
“And you didn’t think I would like to know?”
He had read her intentions in her deep brown eyes, challenging him to play along with her charade in front of the others, but he had no intention of complying. She understood his message clearly, and she bit her lip and dropped her eyes to her plate.
“Or is this just something else I had to find out on my own?”
“I don’t understand.” Justin said in concern, “Why didn’t you know about Tyrone? Aren’t you two working together in this?”
There was a tense silence while Cameron waited for Claire to explain what was behind her actions, but eventually he answered Justin himself.
“It’s a little hard when Claire hasn’t graced me with more than two words beyond business since Wednesday afternoon. Despite what has been a very close friendship, at some point that day I apparently ceased to exist other than as her boss.”
He watched for her reaction keenly, glad for once she could not escape without hearing how she was hurting him. He’d been patient and gentle with her, but even tonight she had shown no intention of relenting towards him.
When she still didn’t make any response Justin stepped in.
“Tell me what is going on, Claire,” he insisted, “Why aren’t you talking to Cameron?”
She sighed and looked up reluctantly at Justin. “Management was not supportive of my witnessing to Tyrone, so I thought it was wiser to act independently. It’s just a work issue.”
“It is a whole lot more than that!” Cameron objected in frustration, “Why don’t you be honest and tell them what is really going on?”
“Because I thought we weren’t going to involve anyone else,” she answered, keeping her voice low and calm, though still not looking at him. “This is not the time or place to discuss it.”
“Then where is the time or place, Claire? I am going nearly insane with the frustration of not being able to resolve this with you - at work you won’t talk to me, and because I’m your boss I have to be so careful how I deal with you there - why not talk to me now?”
“Look, Cameron - I am aware that these are your friends as well as mine, and I have no desire to run you down in front of them.”
So, since I won’t let her back out of discussing the issue, she thinks threatening me will force me to drop it, he observed shrewdly. Well - she is wrong - and I’m about to call her bluff.
“I am fully aware of exactly what you think of me and I am quite prepared for David and Justin and Jenny to hear it -"
“What - that you’re ashamed of the gospel?” she challenged him levelly, pausing from spoon feeding David.
“And the rest. That I’m an ungodly hypocrite, that I’d rather condemn Tyrone to hell than risk my career - and that you want nothing more to do with me?”
Claire had gone pale as he spoke, not expecting that he would meet her challenge by using her own attack. She glanced guiltily at David, and it was several seconds before she recovered her poise.
“Those are your words,” she answered quietly.
“Yes. But that is exactly what you think, isn’t it?”
She finally looked up at him and his eyes held hers unwaveringly, knowing well enough she would answer truthfully.
“Yes. It is.”
In the stunned silence that followed, Cameron saw belatedly that her amber eyes held not the defiance and challenge he had expected but only a deep pain and hurt for which he could not account.
She broke off her gaze suddenly and Cameron realised that Jenny had begun to cry and was dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. Claire slid her arm around her friend’s shoulders and spoke softly to her.
“I’m so sorry, Jen - I didn’t mean you to get upset about all this. We should never have talked about this here - I honestly didn’t mean anyone to know about it.”
“No, it’s okay. It’s just the hormones - I’m crying at everything at the moment,” Jenny insisted in a watery but determined voice, “I just can’t believe what you said about Cameron. What happened?”
“How about we just leave it?” Claire suggested gently, patting Jenny’s arm, “It’s not your problem.”
“No, but it is obviously a problem for you two,” Justin countered, “And I’d really like to help you sort it out. You’re fine, aren’t you, sweetie?”
He checked with his wife, who nodded firmly despite her red nose and eyes, before continuing, “Go on, Claire - I think you should explain what is going on.”
Claire glanced uncertainly at Cameron, and he was surprised by her obvious reluctance to condemn him publicly, despite her inflexible attitude towards him.
Commendable, he thought, but it wouldn’t bring them any closer to reconciliation.
“Go ahead - it’s time we got to the bottom of this,” he told her.
“Okay,” she nodded, taking a long drink from the glass of juice in front of her before beginning calmly and carefully. Cameron couldn’t help but contrast her to Jenny, who’d dissolved into tears at the mere thought of the conflict - whereas Claire who was at the centre of it remained completely in control of herself.
“Last Tuesday I had arranged to have lunch with Tyrone, who was on bed rest for pressure sores and had seemed particularly down. Before I went, Cameron told me that he suspected Tyrone had been researching euthanasia and suicide over the internet, and when I asked Tyrone about it he readily admitted it.
"It was horrifying, the detached way he spoke of ending his own life, sure that anything would be better than his present condition. I told him he was wrong, and explained what the Bible said about those who died unreconciled to God being condemned to eternal punishment.”
“What was his reaction to that?” Justin prompted.
“Anger, initially - although he respected me for what I was saying. Later he thought about what I’d told him, and he spent that night looking through what the Bible said about judgement and hell and was convicted that what I said was true.
"He was quite distressed, and apparently he told the morning nurse what was going through his mind. She reported it to Chris, he is the head physiotherapist - ”
“We know Chris,” Justin explained, “He was the physio in charge of Cameron’s program when he had his accident.”
“Oh, I didn’t realise.” She looked up at Cameron.
“Yes, I hunted him down to work for me when I established Pelican Point.”
Claire nodded, frowning, as though it explained something to her. “Anyway, Chris took violent exception to what I had said to Tyrone - ”
“What happened?” Jenny asked.
“He abused me verbally and stood over me with clenched fists,” Claire answered and then shrugged. “Maybe it would have come to nothing, but I didn’t know that and I was alone and cornered.”
Jenny shuddered, “He’s a very big man, I would have been terrified.”
“I was,” Claire agreed. “It was one of the more frightening moments of my life, and never having seen Chris like that I could only assume he intended to follow through on his threats. It seemed like God’s providence when Cameron came in right then, and I thought he’d come to my rescue. But I was wrong - it only got worse.”
Cameron looked at her in consternation, when he’d seen the two of them arguing she’d seemed to be holding her own against Chris.
“I’m sorry, Claire, I had no idea you felt so afraid. I know from past experience that Chris is extremely touchy about anything to do with religion, and it looked to me like you were just sitting there calmly baiting his temper. All I was concerned about was quelling the situation before it got any more out of hand,” Cameron tried to explain.
“You couldn’t have known, but Chris blames religion for breaking up his family when he was a teenager, so I’ve always gone very gently with him about the gospel. In hindsight I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about that before, we might have avoided a whole lot of trouble.”
Claire pursed her lips in concentration, and then slowly shook her head.
“No, I’m glad I didn’t know - I still wouldn’t have done anything differently. I think it’s a good thing that he’s heard the gospel from one of us anyway.”
She smiled wryly, “At least it’s becoming much clearer to me why Cameron took Chris’s side.”
“It had nothing to do with taking sides, I asked for your account of your conversation with Tyrone, and based my judgement on that alone,” Cameron explained. “By your own admission, Tyrone didn’t ask for your opinion or advice, he didn’t ask about your beliefs, but you very forcefully gave it to him anyway.
"He was paralysed, bedridden, clinically depressed and totally dependent on our care and you took that advantage to terrify him with images of eternal hellfire. Regardless of Chris’s opinion, I believe that was totally unethical.”
“Yes - standing back to watch someone throw themselves into hell is perfectly ethical to Cameron, so long as your own actions are seen to be above reproach. Apparently all of Christ’s commands to warn the perishing are suspended for doctors and their staff,” she answered, her voice hard. “But Tyrone needed the gospel, and I couldn’t be warned off from sharing it with him because it risked the Centre’s reputation, or Cameron’s career or my job.”
She sat straight back in her chair and met Cameron’s eyes in valiant resignation, “I’ve done what I knew was right and kept speaking to Tyrone, and by God’s grace he has come to the Lord.
"I knew it might not have turned out this way, so I made sure you couldn’t be held responsible for my actions by acting without your knowledge. The responsibility is mine alone, so you can go ahead and fire me now.”
“Cam wouldn’t fire you for bringing Tyrone to Christ!” Jenny said, patting her friend’s arm, “Whatever would give you an idea that like?”
“I think it might have been his official letter warning of me of dismissal,” she answered dryly.
“Cameron! You did that because she witnessed to Tyrone?” Jenny demanded, her blue eyes wide.
“Of course I didn’t!” Cameron snapped, shaking his head, “Yes, I gave Claire a letter of warning, but that wasn’t because of her initially witnessing to Tyrone. I did everything in my power to smooth that whole episode over.
"I spent hours explaining the situation to her and she gave me the impression she accepted what was appropriate. But she forced me into taking disciplinary action when she went behind my back and continued to do the exact opposite of what I’d told her.”
Claire had turned away and stretched her hand out to David’s, speaking quietly to him. Cameron strained to catch their conversation, his heart thumping uncomfortably as he heard the regret in her voice.
She was apologising to her brother for not having told him anything about what had been going on, but she hadn’t wanted to worry him about her losing her job. She was sorry, but she’d had no choice. Tyrone had begged her to tell him how to be made right with God, and that had been more important than everything else.
Cameron swallowed and cleared his throat.
“Claire, I would never have let your job come under threat - I’m sorry you didn’t realise that. You gave me no indication that Tyrone was seeking God, the last I had been told was that he had been so upset by your initial conversation that he couldn’t eat or sleep.
"As my patient, it was my duty to protect him. When you openly defied my authority to do that in front of my senior staff, and especially because they knew of our relationship, I had no option but to issue the warning letter.”
She looked at him without understanding and nodded, “Yes - the most important thing was that you had to be seen to be doing what was right.”
Cameron ran his hand through his hair, despairing of ever getting through to her. Couldn’t she understand that he was caught between a rock and a hard place? He’d spent the weekend going through everything in his mind, and praying for a solution but it seemed as unattainable as ever.
“You just can’t see Cameron’s point of view at all, can you, Claire?” Justin asked after a few moments of silence.
Her head snapped up in surprise. “What do you mean?”
“You’ve condemned Cam out of hand because he didn’t believe it was right to witness to Tyrone in those circumstances, without allowing for the possibility that his decision might be valid.”
“How could it be? How could there be anything that would overrule the duty of telling the gospel? I know you share your faith with your patients.”
“Not with every patient, or in every consultation,” he qualified, “I seek God’s wisdom to know when it might be appropriate to speak about my beliefs without compromising my duty of care to my patients, and even when I do I start out very gently.
It is not as clear cut as you might think - it is definitely a more complex situation than simply witnessing to a friend.”
She stared at him intently, frowning hard as she considered his words. Cameron remained silent, thankful to leave the argument in his friend’s capable hands.
“But this isn’t about Cameron witnessing to a patient,” Claire persevered, “he wanted to stop me witnessing to a friend.”
“And that friend was a patient for whom he had a duty of care.”
She blew out her breath in frustration, “Okay, so what about you, Justin? What would you have done in this case?”
“Just say I made the same decision as Cameron? What would you do? Cut me off cold, and not speak to me again? Treat me as an unbeliever?”
“No, of course not! I know you take every opportunity to tell people about Christ - if you didn’t there would be a legitimate reason.”
“Then why did you assume Cameron couldn’t have had a legitimate reason?”
“Because the only time I’ve seen him under pressure for his beliefs he backed off! It’s not just Tyrone, he wasn’t even prepared to back me up in witnessing to Chris!” she answered defensively.
“He told you why he is very careful discussing religion in view of Chris’ background. You mightn’t agree with his position, but why did you turn against him simply because in your view he made a poor judgement?” Justin asked her. “Why didn’t you continue talk to him about it, until either you came to see his perspective or convinced him of why you believed he was wrong?”
Claire blushed, her face colouring brightly as she lowered her eyes to the tablecloth, tracing its pattern with the end of her knife. When she finally answered, her voice was subdued.
“I tried talking to Cameron about it . . . but I couldn’t make him understand.”
“And he refused to talk to you any more about it?”
She shook her head.
“I get the impression he was the one trying to sort it all out between you,” Justin continued, “Why did you give up and decide to work against him?”
It seemed an age before she answered, and then it was obviously with great reluctance.
“Because he would have been able to stop me from doing what I knew was right.”
It seemed a strange answer, but before anyone could clarify what she meant, Jenny cut in. “You don’t really think Claire did the wrong thing by continuing to witness to Tyrone, do you, darling?”
“No, I don’t - especially as she felt convicted that was what she had to do to obey God. I thoroughly commend her for that. I only think she did the wrong thing in judging Cameron for his decision. Only God knows the heart, and she should have given Cam the benefit of the doubt.”
“But how could she, when he wouldn’t let her do what was right?” Jenny persisted.
“There are always going to be situations where Christians see an issue differently. Romans chapter fourteen deals with that in great detail, and it clearly teaches that when it is not a completely black and white biblical doctrine at stake, Christians each need to allow the other the liberty to act according to their own conscience,” her husband explained.
“Claire should have persisted in what she believed was right, without condemning Cameron for what he felt constrained to do. He had shown her he was perfectly willing to discuss the issue, I’m sure they could have come up with an acceptable compromise - like speaking to Tyrone together - if only she’d been open with him.”
David mumbled something to Claire and when he had finished she groaned in annoyance, shaking her head at him. “I should have known you wouldn’t stick up for me!”
She stood up abruptly and began to gather up the dinner plates.
“I’m sorry, Claire - I didn’t catch what David said,” Justin prompted.
She glared at her brother, and muttered under her breath, “Just that he thinks I only ever see things in black and white.”
“Everyone who knows you thinks that about you Claire,” he answered, his gentle laughter finally dissolving the tense atmosphere, “but maybe Cameron hasn’t had time to find out what he’s up against yet.”
Claire clattered the last of the plates on top of the stack, and walked towards the kitchen, calling out over her shoulder, “I’ll serve up dessert, okay?”
“Darling - don’t you think you’re being a bit hard on her?” Jenny whispered across the table.
Justin smiled, shaking his head, “No, as David pointed out, it is not easy to get her to see anyone else’s perspective. You wait - Claire still thinks she is the only one in the room who is right.”
By the time she returned Justin and Jenny were telling Cameron all about Tyrone’s visit to their church and their encouragement from their conversations with him. Claire served the thick wedges of mud cake in silence as the discussion continued, and then sat down, seemingly too intent on her own dessert and her brother’s to make any contribution.
Cameron watched her closely, searching for any opportunity to draw her into the conversation but he had not even managed to catch her eyes before they had finished eating.
“That was really delicious,” he said, laying down his fork, “Did you make that, Claire?”
“Yes. I’m glad you enjoyed it,” she answered, glancing up briefly before pushing her chair back and standing up, “Sorry to eat and run, but I’m pretty tired - I think we might head home. Can I help with the dishes first?”
“No thanks - Justin will stack them in the dishwasher later,” Jenny answered, “Are you sure you don’t want coffee before you go?”
She shook her head and pushed in her chair, pausing behind it with her hands on its back and looked straight across at Cameron.
“I still think you were wrong, Cameron, but I can see now why you might have made that decision. I’m sorry I didn’t give you the benefit of the doubt. I honestly wasn’t trying to hurt you - I only wanted to do what was right.”
She gave him no opportunity to reply but quickly turned away to gather up the things which she’d left in the other room, leaving Cameron to watch after her with an aching heart but also a tremendous sense of relief. Surely there could be a fresh start tomorrow?
“Perhaps I should be going too,” Cameron suggested as Justin returned to the table after seeing Claire and David out. “I’m sorry - I’m sure that wasn’t the quiet dinner you were planning. You’ll both need a break.”
“Not at all, I’m counting on you staying. Come through to the lounge room: I’ve got a new wine I’d like your opinion on,” Justin replied, collecting two crystal glasses and a bottle as he led the way into the adjoining room. “I hoped you wouldn’t mind me not serving wine with the meal - you mightn’t be aware but Claire is strongly against alcohol - so I thought I’d save it for later.”
“You can hardly blame her for that - she’s certainly got good reason to be!” Jenny said, following her husband toward the couch with a plate of cheese and crackers and her own glass of orange juice.
“Without a doubt, but that doesn’t make a glass or two with our meal unbiblical.” Justin sat down next to his wife and began pouring out two glasses. He handed one to Cameron, “However, I see no point in causing my sister to stumble, so we simply give it a miss while she’s here.”
Cameron turned the glass in his hand, watching the glow from the table lamp warm it’s crimson depths. He was still churned up inside, thankful that God had indeed used Claire to bring Tyrone to Him, but saddened by the rift that had been riven between them in the process.
If only they could have sorted through the issues the way Justin had, perhaps seeing Tyrone together as he’d suggested, then he and Claire could have shared in the joy of his conversion, instead of working against each other and tearing each other down.
Deep in thought he took a small sip of the wine, appreciating its full bodied flavour. Since his accident he generally limited himself to one glass at a sitting, and had learnt to savour it slowly. As he replaced his glass on the coffee table he caught the expression in Justin’s eyes and knew a moment’s dread as an uncomfortable realisation dawned on him.
“You’re not interested in what I think of the wine at all, are you Muxy?”
Justin shook his head with an appreciative smile, “Not in the least. It was just a ruse. I had to make sure you stayed long enough for me to find out whether Claire hit the nail on the head. I’m almost convinced she is right in thinking you are too concerned about your career to risk standing up for the gospel.”
Cameron let out a slow breath. The gloves were obviously off, and he knew from experience that Justin was not one to pull his punches.
“Justin! But you were you so hard on Claire? And why did you defend Cam if you thought he was wrong?” Jenny demanded on her friend's behalf, a piece of cheese half-way to her mouth.
“Because his actions were defensible,” he stated simply, “there may be some circumstances where Cameron’s stance would have been quite legitimate. Claire couldn’t see that and only judged him by what she thought were his motives.
I’m suspicious of Cam’s motives too - but I’m not attacking him - as a concerned Christian brother I’m just asking him to explain himself.”
He held out the cheese plate to Cameron but he waved it away.
“What exactly do you mean about my motives?”
“Claire was certainly under the impression that your greatest motivation was to minimise any professional risk to yourself or your Centre. Placating Chris seems to have come much higher up on the list than assessing whether you could take the opportunity of further explaining the gospel to either Tyrone or Chris, or even to support Claire in what she was doing.”
“If you had seen how worked up Chris was, you would understand why!” Cameron said, “In the mood he was in he was capable of taking his grievances right to the top.”
Justin shrugged, “And? Would that be the end of the world?”
“Pretty close to it! Come on, Muxy - you know how hard I’ve worked to establish Pelican Point - I wasn’t prepared to risk throwing that all away unless it was absolutely necessary.”
“I think your worst case scenario would be an unlikely eventuality.”
“But not impossible.” Cameron persisted doggedly, picking up a couple of crackers and passing them from hand to hand.
“No, not impossible, but certainly not a reasonable excuse for running shy.”
Cameron sighed, beginning to crack the savouries between his fingers as he looked expectantly at his friend.
“Go on, then Justin - what would you have done?”
“I thought you told Claire you would have made the same decision?” Jenny interrupted.
“No, sweetie, I deliberately didn’t tell her what I’d do. I just asked how she would respond if I made the same decision as Cam.”
Justin took a sip from his glass and then continued, “From what you’ve told me of the circumstances I would have bent over backwards not to undermine what Claire had done.
You’ve only looked at it from the perspective of professional misconduct, I would have thought it just as valid to defend her actions as perfectly appropriate to her level of friendship with Tyrone. Instead of weighing up your options I think you let Chris panic you into hasty action.”
“Claire panicked me into hasty action!” Cameron retorted, “The whole Centre was talking about how she told Tyrone he was going to burn in hell!”
“Sounds like that was exactly what he needed to hear.”
“It’s easy to say that now - but none of us knew that at the time - it could have just as easily pushed him over the edge. It was a big risk to take.”
“Fortunately for Tyrone, Claire was prepared to take that risk.”
Cameron dropped the fragments of his crackers onto the plate beside him, not yet prepared to concede the round despite feeling somewhat bruised under the persistent blows.
“But it wasn’t Claire who was taking any risk, it was never going to come down on her head. She is my employee, the result of her actions would ultimately be my responsibility. No matter what she thought, her job was never in threat.”
“What Claire thought is a lot more to the point than you realise - Tyrone’s first reaction to her was anger for what she had told him; Chris threatened her with violence; the man who supposedly cares for her fails to support her and then she truly believes her job is at stake.
Yet she never wavers in doing what she thinks is right. She really puts you to shame, Cam. Your first thought was the cost, but we both know if you never worked another day in your life you’d still be able to live comfortably on what you have, let alone what you’d expect from your parents.
"Claire doesn’t have that luxury, and in risking her job, she literally was risking nearly everything. If she doesn’t work her family can’t make ends meet. As it is, I’d say she is still catching up from when her pay was halved in her previous position - I doubt it even covered the mortgage. How she got by is beyond me - but she wouldn’t accept any of our offers for help.”
“Why is she paying the mortgage? I thought they lived at home with her Dad.” Cameron asked in surprise.
“More accurately her father lives at home with her and David. She has been his carer as well as David’s since not long after her mother died. When her father suffered his first stroke Claire found herself having to sort out all the finances of the family and discovered that her father had been drawing off the equity in the house, and losing it all gambling.
"They were very close to losing the house to pay his debts - which would have been an incredible loss since their grandparents had paid for extensive modifications to make it suitable for David many years earlier.
"We only found out what was going on because Claire needed advice when she wasn’t able to find a bank willing to let her take out a mortgage on her own account. Eventually we talked her into letting us go guarantor for her loan, but I’ve no doubt she’d admit defeat and sell the house before asking for any help with payments.”
“But what does her father say to all of this?”
“As long as Claire shops and cooks and cleans and pays the bills all he’s concerned with is getting out of bed in time for the club opening,” Jenny answered, her face uncharacteristically hard.
“He’s a horrible man, Cameron, and I have no idea how Claire and David can live with him - I can’t bear to be in the same room as him. He just takes for granted that Claire will take responsibility for everything, and he doesn’t even acknowledge David’s existence. I wish he’d died instead of their mum.”
Justin slid his arm around his wife’s shoulders as she shuffled in closer against him.
“Their father is an alcoholic,” he explained to Cameron, “He is drunk and very bad tempered most of the time, and they have had a very hard life with him. Although I think things have been a little easier for Claire these last few years as he’s become more incapacitated as his health has deteriorated.”
Cameron reached out for his glass, somewhat stunned by what he was learning. It sickened him to think of Claire, his bright, effervescent “Ginger” struggling in such circumstances. There had been nothing in her demeanour, even when she’d obviously thought her job was at risk, that gave any hint of the tremendous pressure she must have been under.
If only he’d known, or even stopped to think about what his lack of support must have meant to her. Now that he understood what Claire had been prepared to stake for the sake of reaching Tyrone with the gospel it was no wonder that Justin thought him cowardly for his reticence.
Jenny reached up to her husband’s tie and tugged on it gently, “I think you were a little too hard on Claire tonight, darling.”
“Mmm, I think I might have been too. It’s just that it’s nearly impossible to get her out of her mindset once she’s taken a particular view on a matter. I thought that since she’d cast Cameron as the evil villain, unless I pushed her a bit harder the other way she wouldn’t be able to view him with any sort of charity.”
He leant down and kissed Jenny’s troubled forehead before continuing, “At least David supported what I was trying to do - and he would have put me right quickly enough if he thought I was being unfair to Claire.
He’s a deep one, Cameron, once you get to know him. All he can really do is think, but certainly he has the mental capacity to compensate twice over for everything he lacks physically.”
“So Claire tells me,” he answered, his voice subdued. “I certainly didn’t realise that at first, but then before meeting David I’d never looked that deeply into Cerebral Palsy and automatically assumed he’d be mentally retarded. I’ve been reading up what I can find on the internet - it’s caused by brain damage that occurs before or during birth, isn’t it?”
Justin and Jenny exchanged an awkward glance and after a few moments consideration Justin answered.
“Not in David’s case. He was perfectly healthy when he was born. There was some kind of incident several weeks later . . . and the next anyone knew he was in intensive care with a severe brain injury and fighting for his life.”
“What do you mean an incident? What happened?”
Justin took a while before answering, “I’m only a few years older than David, and it has never been openly spoken of, I’ve just pieced together the things I’ve picked up over the years.
"Apparently he was an unsettled baby, difficult to feed and constantly crying. A neighbour of theirs said at night she would hear his drunken father shouting at his mother to stop him crying, and one night she heard his mother screaming and when she ran over, she found the baby unconscious and his mother also with her face and arms bruised - supposedly from falling while carrying the baby.”
Justin sighed deeply before continuing, “Officially it was recorded as an accident. Nothing to do with what occurred is clear but there is no way that a simple fall could account for the injuries he had sustained. With our current medical knowledge, if I saw a case like that today, I’d be certain that baby had been violently shaken . . . but back then things weren’t investigated like they are now.”
Cameron felt himself going pale, and he drained his glass in one unsteady gulp.
“It’s horrible, isn’t it,” Jenny said, her eyes wet, “Obviously their mother was protecting her husband, and they’ve lived with it all these years. But I can’t even talk to Claire about it.”
“Doesn’t she know?” Cameron managed to ask.
“I have absolutely no doubt Claire knows exactly what happened, but she, along with the rest of her family has always stuck with the official story,” Justin explained.
“I remember at one church function, not long after their mother had died, Claire overhead one of the older ladies, who’d been in the church back when David was born, speaking to a friend about what she thought had happened to him.
"I have never seen Claire so angry - the poor woman didn’t know what had hit her. In about three minutes Claire put her in possession of every Scripture reference to gossips, slanderers and foolish talk and gave a devastatingly sharp application of those verses to the lady in question.
Nothing more was mentioned about the incident, but I’ve never heard anyone so much as refer to David’s condition in her presence since.”
“You tried asking her years before that though, didn’t you?” Jenny reminded him.
“Yes, but not only was I met with the frostiest rebuff from Claire, next time I saw David he told me in no uncertain terms to mind my own business and warned me off ever putting any pressure on his sister to discuss private family matters.
"It was several months until things were finally back to normal between us, and I have learned to tread very carefully with them since.”
Cameron frowned, “Why on earth is she so protective of her father after what he’s done? It’s hard to believe she could accept all that and still care for him like you say she does.”
“I don’t think you can understand how families work from the outside Cam, there are all sorts of commitments and expectations that mightn’t make sense to anyone else,” Justin answered.
“It makes a little more sense to me because I knew her mother, and saw how she set the pattern from the beginning. Maybe she didn’t believe it was right to leave even an abusive husband, or if she did, wasn't able to face the alternative. In either case she carried her commitment through until the end.”
“But why would Claire continue to do that?” Cameron objected, “Yes, he’s her father - but the Bible says we are to seek to live in peace - and it sounds like life with him is anything but that. Even if their mother wasn’t willing or able to, Claire is certainly strong enough to break free for her and David!”
“Claire is strong enough to do whatever she thinks is right,” Justin replied, “We saw that tonight. She is not staying there and accepting her father’s behaviour because she has no other option, she is undoubtedly there by choice.
"We mightn’t understand why she makes that choice - or think it’s necessarily the best one - but who are we to presume to judge either her or her mother? We just try to support her as much as we’re able.
"Besides, Claire’s situation is anything other than clear-cut. Almost immediately after her mother died her father had a major stroke - and since then he has been dependent on her. If she left him he’d have to be in a nursing home or hostel of some kind.”
“I don’t see why he can’t be,” Jenny said stubbornly, “Hasn’t she got enough on her plate looking after for David?”
Justin gave her a squeeze, “Claire’s okay, darling, she manages just fine. I know it seems unbearable to you but she’s well used to it - her mum had been leaning on her heavily for many years before she eventually became ill. Nothing offends Claire more than suggesting it might be too much for her.”
He looked at Cameron seriously, “You must realise that if Claire knew we had spoken to you about this I’m certain it would be more than our friendship is worth to her - but I don’t know that you’ll have any chance of getting over these obstacles in your relationship unless you have some understanding of where she’s coming from.”
Cameron nodded slowly, “I really appreciate that - some things are finally beginning to make sense to me. Since the day we met, there’s been an incredible connection between us, yet no matter what I do I can’t seem to get close to her. It’s like there’s an invisible barrier around her that stops me reaching her, and there’s only been a couple of occasions where I seemed to get through momentarily.”
“Then you’ve done better than I ever have.” Jenny said ruefully, “Claire is my closest friend apart from Justin, and for years she has been there for me and encouraged and supported me through all my ups and downs - yet I can never get past the incredible reserve she has.
She’ll talk with me for ever about anything in general, or about my life and my feelings, but if ever I try to reach out to her on a personal level it only pushes her further away.”
“She wasn’t always like that,” Justin recalled, “Although she never had an easy childhood, up until she was eleven years old she was a comparatively open and uncomplicated little girl. Mum used to take me round a couple of times a week to be company for David and there was none of that reserve in her then.
But just before her mother was scheduled to spend a few days in hospital for minor surgery there was an overnight change in Claire’s whole attitude, and suddenly there was an incredible protectiveness towards David and her family, and an obvious wariness of everyone else she came into contact with.
Looking back now, I’d be willing to bet anything that was when her mother told her what had really happened to David - because her defensiveness about his condition began from that time.”
“Why would her mum have told her when she was so young?” Jenny asked him.
“There could be several reasons - she was leaving Claire with the responsibility of caring for David while she was in hospital and maybe she wanted to warn her about her father, because I know neither of them ever left David alone with him. Or maybe facing surgery she thought she might die and wanted to unburden her conscience?”
Justin took off his glasses and wiped them on his hanky, “I don’t know - maybe she really did have Claire’s bests interests at heart and didn’t want her to hear the rumours from anyone else but I can’t help be sorry that she placed such a heavy burden on her so young.
She was forced to grow up overnight and has never seemed to be able to place trust in anyone other than David since then.” He put his glasses back on and stared at Cameron.
“Last time we talked in depth you thought you were head over heels in love with Claire - but they were early days compared to what you’ve experienced of her since then. How serious are you about her now?”
“I’ve never been this serious about anyone in my life,” Cameron said simply, the tight band which he’d felt around his heart since the day he’d met her squeezing more painfully than ever.
“Not even about - what was her name? That floozy you were engaged to before your accident?” Jenny asked innocently.
“Jennifer!” her husband chided in horror.
“Well, she was, Justin!” she insisted, “Even you said she was a - ” Her words were cut off as Justin clapped his hand over her mouth.
Cameron laughed, thankful to be able to relieve some of the incredible tension that had mounted up inside him.
“Don’t worry about me being offended, Justin - Jenny’s perfectly right about Sarina. She was a floozy. A very attractive one, but a floozy none-the-less.”
He picked up a piece of cheese and placed it on a savoury before continuing in a more serious tone, “It’s funny, at the time I thought it was the end of the world when Sarina broke off our engagement, but even then she didn’t mean even a fraction of what Claire already does to me.
It’s frightening to think that if the crash hadn’t happened I might be married to her now - and never even have met Claire, let alone be free for her. Every day I care more deeply for her, the more I know of her the more I love her.”
“Have you told Claire that?” Jenny asked eagerly.
He shook his head sadly. “No - every time I even try to get beyond friendship she seems to panic. I was sure that she felt the same attraction I did, but whenever we come up against something difficult she uses it as an excuse to back right off. Now I don’t really know whether her interest was all in my imagination because I wanted it so badly.”
“Definitely not!” Jenny assured him unhesitatingly, “She lost her heart to you from the first week she started at Pelican Point.”
“Did she actually tell you this?” Justin queried her.
“Well, no - but you know how Claire is,” she explained, “she’s never talked about her feelings for Cam directly, but it’s been absolutely obvious from the start. I don’t think she had any idea she was doing it, but whenever she would talk about her week it was always Cameron this and Cameron that - and from the way her eyes glowed whenever she mentioned you there was no doubt about the way she felt.
The last couple of Sunday’s she’s been very quiet, but that makes sense now in light of what’s been going on.”
“But that’s what worries me,” Cameron sighed, “Maybe what she might have felt at first wasn’t strong enough to get through all this.”
Jenny shook her head in disagreement. “I hardly think so. Everything she said tonight proves she is still as much in love with you as ever. You let her down over this thing with Tyrone, but she was still so concerned about you that she did every thing she could to protect you.
She thought she’d arranged for Tyrone to come to church in a way that would keep you from being blamed, and it was obvious she would never have said one word against you to us or even David if you hadn’t forced her into it.
I noticed too how jealous she is about your friendship with Chris - it doesn’t look like she wants anyone else being more important to you than she is.”
“I wish I could believe that, but since Wednesday she’s avoided me like the plague - it’s been like she’s been afraid of me - but I’ve no idea why, I tried so hard to be gentle with her despite everything.”
“Oh, no - she’s not frightened of you Cam,” Jenny replied, “She’s just frightened of herself and how she feels about you, and that’s why she’s taken such a hard line against you.”
Justin looked at her quizzically, “What on earth gives you that idea?”
“Don’t you remember what she said when you asked her why she didn’t go back to Cameron and talk through the issues with him? She said she couldn’t risk it because he could stop her from doing what she knew was right.
Didn’t you understand what she meant? I thought it was so obvious that she was saying how her own feelings for Cameron would have betrayed her good intentions that I jumped in before she was embarrassed any further.”
Justin raised his eyebrows in consideration as he looked across at Cameron.
“I suppose so - after all, she’d talked to you once, and you’d come away thinking she’d come around to your point of view when it turned out nothing was further from the truth. And then she wouldn’t discuss anything with you at all. What happened?”
Cameron had the grace to blush as he remembered how determinedly she’d held her ground until he’d taken her hands in his, and her resistance seemed to melt away at his touch.
He ran his hand through his hair ruefully as he realised that he’d unconsciously taken advantage of her susceptibility to him. In doing so had probably created the whole tangle over Tyrone because Claire wouldn’t approach him again - since she couldn’t trust him not to misuse his influence.
“Oh, Cameron! You should have known the effect you have on women!” Jenny giggled at his obvious discomfiture, “No wonder Claire’s running shy of you. Don’t you remember how at Uni you’d only have to smile at a girl and she’d be putty in your hands?”
“Jenny!” Justin exclaimed in apparent outrage as he winked over her head at Cameron, “I had no idea you felt that way about him!”
“No, no, no!” she hastened to explain, turning quickly to her husband in all seriousness, “Not me! I promise you I was never even the slightest bit attracted to him!”
Cameron was laughing so hard that he had to wipe the tears from his eyes, “You don’t know how relieved I am to hear that, Jenny!”
He leant back in his seat, stretching his arms behind his head. After the nightmare of the last few days it felt good to laugh, but he still desperately needed a solution.
“Okay, I can see clearly everything I’ve done to chase Claire away,” he began, waving away Justin’s offer to refill his glass, “but can you tell me what I do now to get her back?”
Justin refilled his own glass before sitting back and pursing his lips thoughtfully. “It seems that the desire is certainly there on both sides, the challenge is going to be to learn how to remove the obstacles that keep coming between you.
You could start by making the time and effort to work through this whole issue about Tyrone - if you solve it in hindsight you might both go a long way to understanding the different ways the two of you approach things. Claire has got to learn that you’re human too, and you’re allowed to make mistakes without being cut off without a hearing.”
“That’s only if she’s willing discuss things openly with me.”
Justin nodded, “I know. But somehow you’ve got to get past that barrier and make her trust you. We still haven’t achieved that, but we’ve been prepared to respect the distance she puts between us so that we don’t risk pushing her away and losing the opportunity of helping her at all.”
“So unless Cameron wants to be no closer to Claire in ten years time than we are, he needs to keep pushing until she gives in?” Jenny asked.
“Not necessarily - I know from experience that if you back her into a corner, the last thing she’ll do is concede. Cameron’s just learned the hard way that when she’s put under pressure her first instinct is to fight back.”
“What do you think he should do then?” she persisted.
“Cameron will have to figure out a middle course to avoid both extremes. Besides, as you are so obviously aware he has this irresistible masculine charm at his disposal,” he said, wickedly teasing his wife.
“But Justin! You knew I didn’t mean about me, didn’t you? You are truly the only man in the whole world I have ever, ever felt any attraction to!”
Even though Justin was laughing, she didn’t appear to be convinced he wasn’t serious.
“You still love me, don’t you?” she begged, lifting up her lips to be kissed.
Cameron judged it a good time to go, for although he knew neither of the Muxlow's ever had any doubt of the other’s absolute affection he wasn’t at all confident that Justin would give off teasing before he went too far for Jenny’s present over-emotional state.
Better to leave Jenny to demand her fill of reassurance in privacy - for he certainly had more than enough to think about to keep him going for many hours yet.
© R Brown 2005