Claire kicked a branch off the path as she walked towards the main building the next morning. Leaves were scattered like confetti across the grounds after last night’s gale, but the morning had shown itself sunny and clear, as though the last blustery days of August had finally spent themselves.
There was even a gentle promise of spring in the air - but there was no spring in Claire’s step as she let herself into the reception area and began switching everything on. She had felt much more guilty about her attitude towards Cameron than she had let on at the Muxlow’s and after a couple of hours discussing the issues with David when they returned home she was considerably weighed down in her conscience.
She also felt a pressing need to clear things up with Tyrone. The fact he had not told Cameron anything about his conversion or visit to her church made it clear that he had formed a bad opinion of him - and that was certainly Claire’s fault, inadvertent though it was.
She had apologised to Cameron in front of everyone last night, although she hadn’t needed David to point out to her that it wasn’t a particularly gracious apology. Especially considering his unwavering patience and loving acceptance of her during the past several days even while her actions continued to put him under such great pressure.
She was as relieved at seeing her charge of hypocrisy against Cameron dismissed as if the judgment had been lifted from her own head, yet the whole ordeal had made her warier than ever about restoring their relationship.
She had never felt so strongly about any man and had never been drawn into such a complicated situation because of those feelings. She could clearly see where everything had gone wrong - she should have simply talked to Cameron straight after Tyrone had phoned asking her to tell him the way of salvation.
It was the fear of her own attraction to Cameron that had held her back and set her on the destructive course of condemning him. And as David had succinctly put it, she could hardly hold Cameron to blame because her mind turned to mush when he held her hand.
No, but she could blame herself, and she found this new awareness of herself terrifying. She had always been so independent, able with God’s help to do whatever she knew was right and she didn’t want to accept that another person could have so much impact on her thoughts and actions.
Her reluctance to allow him to further complicate her life warred with her ever-present attraction to him and despite many sleepless hours Claire was no closer to knowing any kind of peace or direction regarding their future.
The bottom drawer of the filing cabinet refused to close properly, and frustrated with her thoughts, she addressed herself to it with slightly more than necessary force. She was aware of someone entering the main doors, but did not straighten up until she had rammed the recalcitrant draw back into place and then jumped in surprise when she turned and saw Cameron directly behind her.
“Oh! I thought you’d be in the gym!” she exclaimed without thinking, gritting her teeth when she realised she’d betrayed yet again how aware she was of his movements.
He grinned at her and then stretched, yawning lazily, his hair still ruffled in boyish curls.
“No, I slept in - I had a pretty late night. The Muxlow’s wouldn’t let me go until they’d raked me across the coals for treating you so badly.”
Claire frowned in consternation but before she could answer he spoke again.
“Come on upstairs to my office with me, the least I can do is apologise without us being constantly interrupted.”
Her thoughts were in turmoil as she followed him along the hall, but as the lift doors opened she excused herself, saying she’d meet him upstairs after she’d retrieved her cup and made herself a coffee. She hated using lifts, always feeling claustrophobic and panicky once the heavy doors shut her in and usually managed to find a way of avoiding it and taking the stairs instead.
This morning she especially needed a few minutes breathing space before facing Cameron, but as she raced up the stairs and into the staff room her mind refused to co-operate.
She had been so ready to face up to him and impassively shoulder the blame for her actions that his unexpected approach threw her off balance. She made her coffee and let herself into his office, glad at least she had the cup to occupy her hands with and chose a seat opposite him.
As it turned out, her cup was empty long before Cameron finished speaking, explaining how he was sorry he hadn’t really understood her convictions, or taken heed of them himself, and especially that he’d obviously made it so hard for her to discuss the issues with him.
“No - that was my fault,” she found herself interrupting, “I know you would have been willing to listen if I had come to you - I did the wrong thing by going behind your back.”
Cameron shook his head, “No, the only thing I can fault you for is for thinking that I would deliberately choose to go against God. I know it seems that’s what I did, but I promise you I didn’t realise it at the time - I’ve always taken for granted that my professional responsibilities and my witnessing needed to be in two separate categories. After talking to Justin and Jenny I can see I have a fair bit of rethinking to do there.”
He smiled warmly as he continued, “I had a really good chat with Tyrone over breakfast and I’ll speak to Chris about everything as soon as he comes in - now I just need to find out the procedure for formally withdrawing the letter of warning.”
“Oh, no, don’t worry about that!” Claire said quickly, “I deserved that - and I’m still really sorry for the way I acted - undermining you in front of the others was inexcusable. Despite everything you’ve said this morning, your letter is still perfectly legitimate. Just leave it be.”
“Are you sure?” he pressed, frowning.
“Yes. It’s not like it’s going to go any further anyway,” she replied determinedly and then smiled, “I’ll never go against you like that again.”
“I hope I never give you cause to,” he replied, and the warmth in his eyes made her whole body tingle, “I hadn’t realised how conservative I’d become. I’m not used to being pushed outside my comfort zone, but I’m obviously going to have to get used to it since it’s been happening ever since I met you.”
“I bet Tyrone was pleased to talk to you about God,” she cut in quickly, “I’m sorry he hadn’t felt able to speak to you before - that honestly wasn’t my doing.”
“No, that was mine,” he shook his head ruefully, “but God has been really good to us, hasn’t He? Despite our best efforts to complicate everything He’s really worked a miracle in Tyrone; Chris and who knows who else has been challenged to think about spiritual things and I think you and I’ve both learned a lot about each other through all of this.”
"Yes," Claire nodded, her mouth dry with fear at where the conversation was heading. “It’s good to have it all sorted out now, isn’t it?”
She stood quickly, unable to face the questions about their personal relationship which she was sure were coming, “Is that all then? I really need to make a start on the mail before the switch gets too busy.”
“What do you mean ‘is that all?’”, he challenged her, moving forward as she backed towards the door, “That’s only the issues about Tyrone - what about us?”
Claire paused at the doorway, unable to think of an answer, and relieved to hear Chris’s voice as he left the lift.
“Hi, Chris,” she called out to him as he headed in her direction, “are you feeling better?”
“Just about,” he replied, stopping in front of Cameron’s door. Claire dropped her eyes to the ground as Cameron joined them in the doorway.
“I guess I can’t force you to talk to me, Claire,” he sighed, looking up and nodding at Chris, “How about you, mate? Come in and I’ll fill you in on what’s been happening here while you were away.”
Claire glanced back at Cameron, surprised to catch a mischievous glint in his eyes.
“I’ll come down and collect my mail, Ginger - who knows how long it will be until someone rings me and you can sneak it in while I’m on the phone?”
She felt herself blushing, she’d had no idea her avoidance of him over the past few days had been so obvious, and was glad that Chris had already headed past her into Cameron’s office and she was able to make good her escape.
Cameron breathed out slowly as he waited for Chris’s response. He’d watched a full range of emotions reflected in his friend’s face as he’d explained his change of thinking regarding Claire’s witnessing to Tyrone, but now that he’d finished speaking, Chris’s expression was inscrutable.
“Are you telling me you believe the same stuff about burning in hell as Claire does?” he demanded finally.
Cameron could feel his heartbeat picking up under the pressure, but he answered unapologetically, “Yes, I do.”
Chris scowled, “I don’t know how you can - it disgusts me that supposedly good people like you can believe in something so cruel and unfair. Who would want a God like that anyway?”
“The God I know is anything other than cruel or unfair, Chris. Humanity rejected their Creator and our rebellion against Him deserves everlasting punishment, yet God offers to take that punishment in our place and give us His perfection in return. I call that more than fair.”
He registered Chris’s eyes hardening, just as though shutters had gone down over his mind, and prayed silently for God’s help in reaching his friend.
“Look, I didn’t always see things this way either. When I was lying in a hospital bed with my back broken and my life in ruins I was not impressed when my friend Justin tried to tell me about his belief in God. To me life seemed to be enough of a living hell without then being told I needed to be saved from an eternal hell. It made no sense to me, if God was really so good and loving - if he even existed, that is - why He didn’t just do away with hell and take everyone straight to heaven?"
Chris raised his eyebrows, “You said it.”
“Justin tried to explain to me that the problem of sin just couldn’t be dismissed. Despite the limitless love of God, His inherent holiness meant sin still had to be dealt with. Once in existence, sin couldn’t just cease to exist - it had to be paid for, either by eternal punishment in hell or in some other way.
"With both of us having just qualified as doctors, I suppose it was natural that Justin compared sin to a deadly disease which had infected everyone on earth, and Heaven being like a sterile containment ward, where those within were not infected. In heaven, in the presence of God, there is no death, or pain or sadness and suffering.
Just as it makes sense in times of epidemics to quarantine those infected with diseases away from the healthy populations, it makes sense that people who are infected with the deadly disease of sin can’t just be admitted into the holiness of Heaven without first being cured and cleansed from their sin.”
“Who are you saying’s got this “disease” of sin?" Chris challenged, "Obviously not you churchy people or you wouldn’t be so high and mighty about the whole thing!”
“Every living person is born dead in their sins," Cameron replied, hoping he could break down Chris' antipathy to Christianity, "Except for Jesus, there’s not been a person born since Adam who wasn’t infected with the disease of sin. Not only is it terminal, it’s inherited at conception by every member of the human race. When God made Adam and Eve he made them perfect and healthy - spiritually as well as physically. They were created to live for ever, without any kind of suffering.
"There was only one condition, that they obeyed the command which God had given them. He warned them not to eat of the forbidden fruit, and promised that if they disobeyed him in that, they would die. It was a very clear-cut contract - and when they chose to disobey God, they chose death - for them and all their descendants. It was then they became infected with this disease of sin, they died spiritually and began to die physically too."
"If we are talking about fairness and justice the story should end there. God set a very clear bargain, and he had every right to follow through with his end of the deal. Yet his love and compassion for these people he had made was so great that he provided a solution which would give them a second chance at life."
Cameron paused, his explanation was turning into a sermon but while-ever Chris was letting him continue he thought it too good an opportunity to pass up.
"The creator of heaven and earth actually sent his own Son, Jesus Christ, who is truly God, to be born as a baby into the world and grow into a man. He lived in a world that was infected by sin, yet was not contaminated by it. Unlike every other person who is born spiritually dead and unable to please God, because he was God as well as human, Jesus was spiritually alive and able to obey God perfectly in everything.
"Sin has to be punished by death - the very nature of God’s holiness demands it - but he chose to sacrifice his own perfect Son to die in the place of the sinner.
"Yes, there is a hell, for the eternal punishment of those who remain spiritually dead and die still in their rebellion against God. But there is also Jesus, standing at the gates of heaven, offering his perfect blood as a cure for our sin to any who ask for it. Although it came at such immense cost to him, he offers it free to anyone who wants to be cleansed of their sins so they can enter heaven.”
He looked at Chris expectantly as he concluded, “That’s why I can’t see the fact that God punishes sinful mankind in Hell as unfair or cruel. He has provided salvation from Hell at such great cost - how can we complain if we choose to reject it and to continue to rebel against him?”
“Each to his own, I guess,” Chris sighed dismissively, then pushed back in his chair, his arms folded across his chest. "I've heard you out, mate, so I reckon you can leave me alone about it all now. At least things will be all rosy with you and Claire again.”
Cameron shook his head, keenly deflated by Chris' attitude. “No, not at all.”
His friend looked at him in surprise.
“No, Claire won’t have a bar of me. As far as I can understand, she finished with me last Wednesday when I didn’t agree with what she’d done. She won’t discuss it with me, but apparently the fact I see things differently now doesn’t make any difference to her.”
“So are you giving up?”
“How can I?” Cameron asked, shrugging, “I can’t sleep at night for thinking of her, and I’m sure if I don’t get some kind of response from her soon I’ll go mad!”
Chris chuckled, “Don’t worry mate, you’ll wear her down!”
“Thanks a lot!” Cameron shook his head at him, “And here I was hoping to win her with my charm!”
His friend laughed again and headed towards the door, “And goodness help the rest of us until you do!”
Cameron watched him leave, despite his disappointment in Chris' reaction, he was thankful to have had the opportunity of clearly sharing the Gospel with him. At least it was out in the open now, and although Chris had rejected it, it was a great relief to know he still had his friendship.
When Chris passed her desk twenty minutes later, Claire felt her stomach knot up even more tightly, knowing that at any moment Cameron would be down to see her and that she was still no closer than ever to knowing how to handle the situation.
She couldn’t bear the thought of a future without Cameron - only the conviction that she was honouring God had sustained her through the painful bleakness of the past several days - yet neither did she have the confidence to make any kind of commitment to him.
Although Jenny knew them both well, Claire knew there would be no point in asking for her advice. She had seen exactly how Jenny had approached the beginning of her relationship with Justin - she had simply handed her whole life over to him from the start with the unquestioning expectation that he would sort everything out.
But Claire wasn’t a naïve 19 year old who saw the man she loved as an omniscient demi-god, and no more was she blind to the human frailties of men than she was able to dismiss the responsibilities that she alone had to carry. Neither did she have David’s optimism or strength of character. He dismissed her prevarication about Cameron and told her she should accept his obvious love be prepared to open her own heart to him - and if for some reason their relationship didn’t work out, to deal with it then.
Claire closed the correspondence register and sighed - that was the real problem - she didn’t think she would be able to deal with it. Until now she’d been able to keep him at arms length, if she allowed him to get closer and really come to know her, would he still care for her?
Every day she was more convinced that Cameron was everything she could desire in a man, and the way he’d followed through the whole issue regarding their differences over Tyrone so honourably had only raised her estimation of him higher. It was one thing for her to suffer the loss of the relationship never really beginning, but to open her heart to him and risk being rejected . . .
The lift doors opened, and Cameron’s rich, deep voice froze all her thoughts as he came through into the reception area still in conversation with Rod, the new physio.
Rod was a good-looking young man, but there was nothing in him which could rival the sheer charisma of Cameron’s presence. Cameron always dressed with excellent taste, but she wondered if perhaps he was aware that the chambray blue shirt he’d worn today made his eyes seem impossibly blue. Surely he couldn’t have known her weakness for those beautiful blue eyes?
The men finished speaking and after Rod had given her a quick smile and hello he turned and headed outside, leaving her alone with Cameron.
“All ready,” she said with a friendly smile, holding out his mail.
“Just as I knew it would be,” he replied, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes as he reached over for the letters. Just as he took them with one hand, his free hand gently caught hers before she’d had a chance to realise what was happening.
The warmth of his skin against her own cool fingers took her by surprise and she breathed in quickly, having had no chance to prepare herself for the electric heat that coursed through her arm towards her chest.
Although her heart had begun to pound dizzily, she fought the urge to snatch back her hand. She would not achieve her purpose by overreacting, the wisest defence would be to play it cool - after all, that’s exactly what she would do if she really felt nothing for him.
“Is there something else?” she prompted him in a matter-of-fact tone, as though she hadn’t noticed anything unusual.
Cameron chuckled in appreciation, turning her hand in his so that his thumb swept across the top of her narrow wrist. “We’re back to just business again, are we?”
“That’s what we’re here for,” she returned blandly, determined to keep her emotions under control, “after what we’ve just been through, it would be foolish to let anything interfere with our work again.”
His eyes never left hers, and she felt she could cry with how deeply she cared for him - but how could she give him any encouragement when she didn’t feel certain it was the right thing to do?
“I don’t think we have any choice in the matter,” he suggested quietly, “The way I feel about you interferes with everything in my life, work included. I certainly can’t pretend that isn’t the case, even if that’s what you’re doing.”
He leaned closer to her, “Unless you really want me to believe that your own feelings regarding me are only completely business like?”
“That’s exactly what I want you believe,” Claire answered carefully, deciding it wasn’t a lie because true or not, that was what she wanted him to think. Her heart was pounding so hard with his nearness that the pulse in her ears sounded like Niagara Falls, but while ever she sat there so calmly Cameron couldn’t possibly know that.
He made no answer, but the slightest of smiles curved his lips as he glanced down at their hands and back up again - but Claire forced herself to remain still. Whatever he might think, he couldn’t read her mind - she would just have keep herself firmly in hand and wait him out. He held her eyes with his for what seemed like an eternity until he broke his gaze for just a moment and she was finally able to breathe out.
“You might want me to believe that, Ginger,” he said suddenly, his cheeks dimpling as he grinned widely, “but when you’ve got a heart rate of 130 just because I’m holding your hand - I’m not likely to!”
She realised with horror that when he’d taken her hand he’d slid his fingers under her wrist to cover her pulse, and as she felt the colour rush into her face she screwed her eyes shut with embarrassment. There would have been no need for him to be able to read her mind if he knew how hard her heart was pounding. He placed her hand back in her lap, and patted her shoulder, chuckling.
“Ah, my love, you should have known better than to try to fool a doctor!”
Claire covered her face with her hands, knowing there was absolutely nothing she could do to salvage the situation and feeling entirely unable to face him. Thankfully he was satisfied with his victory, and she heard him entering the lift only moments later, leaving her alone in her mortification.
Facing Cameron later in the dining room was every bit as bad as she had dreaded, and the moment his eyes met hers as he entered the room she felt herself blushing all over in response to his knowing smile.
Matters weren’t helped by him taking the place directly opposite her either, and insisting on including her in his lively banter with the patients and staff at their table. She was unnerved by him at the best of times, but after what had happened earlier it took every ounce of strength she had to maintain her composure in front of the others.
Just as she had finished her meal and stood up to leave, looking forward to tennis and a couple of hours break from his too perceptive gaze, he called her back.
“By the way, Claire - did I happen to mention this afternoon’s roster has been rearranged? Mickey’s going to take your place on the tennis court, so you can come with and help me with baseball - I’m showing these guys how to bat - so I’m going to need an energetic outfielder.”
His eyes sparkled with enjoyment, and she had no doubt that he was savouring every moment of her discomfiture.
“How lovely,” she managed to murmur, before disappearing into the sanctuary of the ladies change room for few minutes respite.
As it turned out, the sports session had been great fun - Cameron delighting in hitting the ball in the direction furthest from wherever she was fielding - and had her running from one side of the field to the other. As usual, his high spirits were infectious and all the men took up his example with great enthusiasm, their limitations forgotten in the goal of making Claire work as hard as possible.
By the end of the session Claire was exhausted, but at least she finally felt relaxed again. They had all been so carried away with the game, that for once Cameron hadn’t kept an eye on the time, and they were running very late when he eventually dismissed the men and headed back inside.
He had stopped needling her and she was grateful to be at ease in his presence again, enjoying the friendly conversation with him which she had missed so much. For once she didn’t think twice about taking the lift upstairs with him, and when she followed him into his office she was surprised to see Chris sitting in Cameron’s place, leaning on his elbows and glaring at them.
“This is not good enough,” Chris began, with such a perfect imitation of one of Cameron’s serious frowns that Claire couldn’t help grinning, “If the senior staff are not self-disciplined enough to abide by the timetable and ensure they respect their commitments, it shows a deplorable lack of respect in our management. Because of your tardiness this meeting has been kept waiting for over fifteen minutes.”
Claire glanced at Cameron and saw his open mouthed amazement, and then caught Lynette’s eye with the inevitable result that both women burst out laughing. Within moments all four of them were almost sobbing with laughter, so unexpected and effective had Chris’s impersonation been.
When she was finally able to sit down and draw breath, Claire looked across at Chris and explained, “You know, we were only so late because Cameron had to ensure there was no blade of grass I hadn’t crossed in that whole wretched field!”
“I know,” he grinned back, “we were watching from the window.”
“He’s a cruel master,” Lynette added, smiling, “I’d like to see if you can take the stairs two at a time in the morning, Claire.”
Claire shook her head, “So would I - and somehow I’ve got to get up and go back downstairs now - I’ve forgotten all the files!”
Everyone laughed again, and as Claire headed back downstairs she felt warm through with the welcome return to harmony amongst them all. It was as though Chris’s charade had finally released the pressure which had oppressed them all over the last several days and cleared the air between them. Now, if only she knew how to handle things with Cameron . . .
© R Brown 2005