“I hope you appreciate that I keep my promises!” Claire burst into Cameron’s office that afternoon, still feeling dizzy with happiness about the new understanding they’d reached at lunch, “I’m an extra ten minutes early - even though it means owing Rod for doing the packing up alone this time.”
“Good work,” he replied, but she’d already noticed Lynette sitting on the far side of the conference table even before she’d picked up the significance of his restrained response.
She bit her lip, stifling a giggle and feeling like a schoolgirl caught out playing truant.
“And I thought I’d finally wangled some time alone with Cameron!” she confessed unabashed to Lynette, deliciously aware of Cameron’s appreciative smile. He’d never minded anyone knowing his feelings about her, and she felt light-headed with the relief of no longer having to hide her own.
“I’m sorry, dear,” Lynette sympathised, her expression clearly showing her own delight at Claire’s artless admission, “I’m a real cow to thwart your tryst like this, but I need to leave at four thirty for an appointment, so I was hoping we might be able to start early today. But you never know,” she added cheekily, “if we can finish up early you might be able to get rid of Chris then too!”
“Good thinking, Linny!” Cameron replied in great spirits, “I’m not going to knock back a single opportunity that she actually wants to see me alone! All we need now is Chris. Go and see if you can round him up for us, Ginger.”
“Right away, Biggles!” Claire snapped her hand to her forehead in a mock salute in answer to his peremptory command to find Chris. The moment the words left her mouth she was aware of the inexplicable change in Cameron’s expression. In the fraction of a moment it had gone from open and warm to a hard mask of sudden suspicion.
“What did you just call me?” he demanded.
“Just . . . Biggles,” she began, utterly bewildered, “I’m sorry, it was silly, you probably have no idea who Biggles even is.”
“Yes, I certainly do. I know exactly what you’re talking about!”
“Well, I don’t!” Lynette interjected with interest, seemingly unaware of Cameron’s change of mood, “Who is this Biggles?”
Claire turned to her to explain, wondering if somehow Cameron had misunderstood her, “He is a character in a classic series of fiction books by W.E. Johns - Squadron Leader Bigglesworth - a World War I pilot and later spy and air policeman. His colleagues called him Biggles, and that was the name of the series.”
“But why did you call Cam that?”
“Because every time he calls me “Ginger” - especially when he’s giving me commands like that - it make me think of Ginger Hebblethwaite, who was one of Biggles underlings in the books.”
She sighed and chanced a glance back at Cameron, noticing that although the anger had disappeared from his face as quickly as it had come, his eyes were still dark under a heavy brow, “It was just a joke. I’d better go and get Chris.”
She turned and walked slowly out of the room, despite feeling like running away and bursting into tears. What had she done? Had she really misunderstood everything between them - maybe ruined it all by making that silly, off-the-cuff joke? Somehow she thought he’d appreciate the teasing and her light heartedness . . .
She found Chris easily, sitting on one of the weight benches and chatting with one of the nurses who was heading off duty. With Claire’s help it took only a couple of minutes to finish his packing up and to return upstairs together, well ahead of the usual start time.
Cameron was keen to start straight away, and though his manner seemed pleasant enough, she could see that he was still preoccupied and distant. With any luck, she thought to herself, we’ll be through early and then I’ll have a chance to find out what I did wrong.
Having finally made the commitment to their relationship, Claire couldn’t bear thinking that somehow she’d pushed him away already and she was determined not to let any kind of misunderstanding come between them again.
“That must be a record,” Chris joked when they finished up with the last file just before four thirty and Lynette got up to leave.
“What do you reckon, Cam, can I have an early mark too? ‘Cause I’ll only be hanging around and filling in time until five otherwise. Not worth starting anything at this stage of the game.”
“At least you’re honest,” Cameron answered, inwardly relieved by his suggestion, “Go on, get out of here.”
He looked thoughtfully across at Claire, who had returned her attention to the computer after farewelling Lynette and Chris. It seemed a lifetime since anyone had used his nickname “Biggles” and when Claire had called him by it he’d felt as though he’d been struck hard between the eyes.
It had conjured up everything he’d wanted to forget about his life prior to becoming a Christian, and it staggered him to think Claire could know anything about that part of his past and refer to it so flippantly. Within moments though, as she’d tried to explain who Biggles was to Lynette, he’d wondered if he’d jumped to the wrong conclusion, and that somehow it was a chance remark.
Part of him wanted to find out, but he wasn’t sure if he would be better off letting it go unmentioned, and leaving everything buried in the past. As it turned out, he didn’t need to make that decision for as soon as he heard the printer whirring, Claire was striding purposefully towards him.
“What was that all about, Cameron? What on earth did I do to upset you like that?” she asked in concern as she pulled a chair close beside him and sat down. He hesitated only a moment before choosing to get to the bottom of it quickly.
“Why did you really call me Biggles? Did you know that was once my nickname?”
“No!” she exclaimed in surprise, “It’s just the first thing that pops into my head every time you call me Ginger. I was just being silly to actually say it out loud to you . . . it didn’t mean anything at all except that you were being rather like a commanding officer.”
He frowned, “Why on earth would a girl like you think of a character from a series of books for boys?”
“Because when we were growing up, David used to tease the life out of me by calling me that! He was mad keen on Biggles books, and I used to read them aloud to him. Our library had the whole 50 or 60 of them, and I must have read each of them at least twice. It probably sounds stupid to you - but the characters in them became very real to us. David’s life has always been so limited and it was a special adventure we shared, sitting up late and vicariously living out Biggles’ latest escapades.”
“No - it doesn’t sound in the least stupid,” he answered slowly, “I grew up reading them too and imagining I was Biggles.” Only I didn’t just do it vicariously, he added to himself, I went ahead and actually tried to do it . . .
He looked down at the table, trying to reconcile his impression of David as a severely handicapped and wizened man in a wheelchair with the image of a boy with a heart and soul like his own soaring into the realms of fantasy just as he had. Somehow David seemed more real, more human to him than he ever had before. He looked up and smiled.
“I can certainly see why you made the connection with Ginger and Biggles - but do you know I’d never thought of it in that way before? When I call you Ginger, I’ve got in mind a pouncing little ginger kitten with sharp little claws when she’s angry, but the sweetest thing imaginable when she’s not.”
If he’d hoped to melt her with his compliment he was wrong, Claire smiled briefly but returned tenaciously to the topic at hand.
“So why did I upset you so much when I called you Biggles? You said it had been your nickname?”
He nodded, her persistence leading him to making the snap decision to tell her everything,
“Yes, from the time I was about 12 it was nearly the only name I went by. My Dad has always flown light planes as recreation, and as well as going up with him at every opportunity I studied everything related to planes and flying that I could get my hands on. It was a childhood obsession that continued as I grew up, and I’d actually gained my pilots licence before I was even old enough to have a full car driver's licence.
It was never something I was aiming on for a career - Dad was a doctor and he had always intended for me to follow him into his speciality - and I went ahead and studied medicine, but to me flying, and the social life that went with it was certainly the most important part of my life.”
He hesitated, wishing he could skip the rest of the story yet somehow knowing how important it was to share it with her.
“I shudder to think of the person I was then - not only did I have an internship in a coveted private Sydney hospital, I had my own plane, moved in the most exclusive circles and thought I was the original big shot.
Most weekends there were Aero Club events: competitions, cross-countries, sleep-overs in various parts of the state - there was a quite a close knit group of us all about the same age and background who fuelled each other's arrogance and egoism. It’s one thing for a schoolboy to lose himself in fantasising he is Biggles, but quite another for supposedly grown men.”
He frowned hard at the memory and then asked Claire, “Do you know how I injured my spine?”
She shook her head, “No, I didn’t want to ask. I always assumed it was probably in a car accident.”
“No, flying. Totally needless, and entirely avoidable.”
He breathed out slowly, forcing himself to meet her eyes. “We had a big social weekend at one of the Aero Clubs, and after a day’s flying we set up camp beside the airfield and settled in for one of our usual overnight parties. We were drinking, - not a whole lot since we were flying out again the next morning - but just enough to get things moving along nicely.
None of us had any intentions of going up again that night, but when one of the others set up a wild challenge I had drunk just enough alcohol for my bravado to outweigh my common-sense.
It took just a few seconds of overconfidence and a foolish miscalculation and I was ploughing into the ground to the sound of tearing metal and my own screams. I can tell you crashing a plane is nothing like it sounds in the Biggles books. Worse still, when there is no enemy to blame, no adverse conditions - just your own stupidity.”
Claire didn’t make any comment, she sat stock still, her eyes shining with unshed tears.
He shrugged, wondering what she thought of him now.
“Looking back I’m honestly thankful that God brought me down to earth like that - otherwise I can’t imagine that I would have been shaken out of my own self-sufficiency to ever have looked to Him. But it was a very dark time in the interim - it was the end of Biggles, the end of a dream and pretty much the end of everyone who was a part of my life back then.
While I was still lying in hospital my fiancee broke off with me completely, I knew my job was gone, my mother couldn’t bear to see me and my father’s plans for taking me into his private practice had also evaporated. It wasn’t for some months that the things that Justin was telling me about God began to sink in, and until then I was very much alone.”
“How awful . . .and in some ways so much like what happened to Tyrone,” Claire said softly, her voice hardly more than a whisper, “did you ever think of taking your own life, like he did?”
Although her eyes were still on his, she had reached across and laid her hands on his forearm, her cool fingers sending shivers of sheer delight through him as she gripped him gently. It was the first time she had ever reached out to him physically, but her gesture of acceptance and concern had seemed such an unconscious action that he didn’t want to draw her attention to it and deliberately continued speaking.
“Only briefly - but I was too angry at everyone who had given up on me to give them that satisfaction of admitting that I’d ruined my life. I threw myself into taking control of my own rehab, arranged to be admitted into one of the best clinics in the States, and began my own research into spinal injuries while I was still undergoing treatment. I was determined to prove that I had lost nothing, and could not be simply written off.”
“Oh, Cameron - I had no idea . . .” she whispered, and the expression of understanding on her face and the shining adoration in her eyes did away with his tenuous self-control.
He covered her hands with his own, smiling as she looked down in surprise and blushed, confirming that she had taken hold of him without even realising it. His heart was pounding as he reached out to her smooth, pale face, her eyes widening as he tenderly cupped her cheek in his palm.
“You are so beautiful,” he whispered, thrilled as she closed her eyes and leaned against his hand, holding her for several long moments, hardly daring to move. He brought his free hand up to the other side of her face, his thumb gently stroking her cheek, and slowly drew her closer.
“Oh, Claire, I love you so much.” Cameron’s heart was nearly exploding with desire as he leaned forward, but the moment his lips touched hers, her eyes snapped open and she tensed beneath his touch. He pulled back only slightly so he could meet her eyes, smiling into them as he held her head gently in his hands, certain she had never been kissed in this way before.
“It’s okay, my love, it’s okay,” he murmured, gently brushing his thumb across her lips. She took a deep shuddering breath, her eyes revealing her desire as well as her reluctance and he leant forward and let his lips brush against hers for only the briefest moment, before looking back into her eyes again, giving her opportunity to pull back.
Claire was trembling all over but she did not move away, her lips curving in the slightest smile as she regarded him shyly. He lowered his head and began to kiss her again lightly, savouring the sweetness of her mouth. Her lips were still tense and unresponsive and although he knew she was holding herself back with firm control she was allowing him to continue.
Cameron slid his fingers into her hair, her silky curls springing beneath his fingertips as he willed her to relax and follow where he was leading her. Claire's eyes closed again slowly, and he was aware of the tension gradually leaving her body. As she melted into his embrace he could restrain himself no longer, crushing her against his chest as his lips took full possession of hers, doubting now that he could have stopped even if she’d wanted him to.
The incredible awareness that she was no longer holding herself back, that she had given herself into his arms was intoxicating and he kissed her with all the passionate desire which had been building up over the months since they’d met.
Cameron felt her arms slide up around his neck, the knowledge that she loved him and she trusted him singing in his heart as his mouth tried desperately to satisfy his hunger, the desire that was raging throughout his body.
She trusts me . . .the thought returned unbidden into his consciousness, she trusts me and yet I’m doing this. . .
He had been fully aware of her initial reluctance and he had no doubt now that she had no experience of this - but he certainly had the experience and he knew without a doubt exactly what he was doing to her, and to himself.
Never in the past had that mattered in the least to him, but now . . .
Feeling as though he were tearing apart his very soul he broke off suddenly, not trusting the battle between his body and his conscience to continue for even a moment longer.
He moved his hands to Claire’s shoulders, firmly pushing her away from him, her eyes wide with surprise but her lips full and cherry red, already tempting him to abandon his resolve.
“It’s after five o’clock,” he managed to say in-between ragged breaths, “you’d better go.”
She stared at him in confusion as he moved himself further back from her, but he knew he could not risk anything more. Right now he had to get her out of there, explanations would have to wait until later. She hesitated only a moment longer, and then bolted for the door.
He listened to her light footsteps crossing the corridor and heading into the stairwell, longing with all his heart to follow after her and sweep her back into his arms. He took a deep breath, trying to bring his breathing and his thoughts under control - knowing that he’d been foolish, very foolish.
Trying to satisfy the burning desire within him that way was like trying to put out a fire by dousing it with petrol. He simply hadn’t stopped to think how he should have handled things differently now that he was a Christian, but he knew that was no excuse, and that he’d better take some responsibility and start thinking quickly.
When the telephone rang in the upstairs kitchen that evening, Claire glanced quickly at the clock. Six thirty p.m. and probably just a sales canvasser, she thought in annoyance, deciding to let it go unanswered. She was uncharacteristically flustered and running late with tea, chopping vegetables hastily in an effort to have them prepared before the meat overcooked.
Since Cameron had told her he loved her and had kissed her she had been lost an a dizzying whirlpool of emotion, at one moment an ecstatic warmth flowing through her at the memory of his kiss, the next shivering with the cold feeling of panic and guilt about her own response to him.
She’d always kept such a close guard on herself but when he had kissed her and stirred up a desire in her that she hadn’t even known had existed, she had suddenly abandoned that guard . . .and yet somehow she couldn’t bring herself to regret giving in.
It had been the most incredible thing she had ever experienced, and she kept telling herself that surely just a kiss couldn’t be so wrong after all. What worried her more than anything was him pulling away from her so abruptly, and telling her to leave. Had she done something wrong, somehow disappointed him? Did he regret kissing her, or telling her how he felt about her?
The phone was still ringing, and Claire felt she’d better answer it, although no-one ever rang them except the Muxlow’s - and then never right on tea time. But if there was something wrong . . . she paused and grabbed the phone, stretching the cord across to the counter-top and wedging it against her shoulder so that she could keep chopping while she answered.
Claire jumped at the unexpected sound of Cameron’s voice and the knife slipped, nicking her finger. She glanced down in dismay, distracted from her panic of not knowing what to say by the blood dripping from her finger.
“Sorry, hang on just a tick.”
She put the phone down, and ran her finger quickly under the tap and then wrapped a bandaid tightly around it. That will have to do for now, she thought, turning down the griller and returning to the phone uncertainly, quite frightened about what Cameron might be ringing to say.
“Sorry, Cameron - I’m back.”
“Is this a bad time? I couldn’t get through any earlier - your phone’s been engaged until now, should I call back later?”
“Sorry, David would have been on the internet, he’s only disconnected it because I usually have tea ready by now,” she hesitated, knowing she hadn’t time to stop and talk, but desperate to be put out of her misery, “Cameron, did I do something wrong? You wanted me to leave - have I offended you?”
“Oh, no, sweetheart, it was me - you were absolutely perfect - but I did the wrong thing by taking advantage of you like that. I knew you weren’t comfortable and it was something you hadn’t planned to do, but even when you hesitated I didn’t stop.”
Her heart was pounding madly and she could hear the warmth in his voice as he spoke, “That’s why I wanted to ring and apologise, and to promise I wouldn’t put you in that situation again.”
“It’s okay,” she said quickly, relieved he didn’t blame her for anything, but ridiculously disappointed he was suggesting not kissing her like that again, “I’ve never . . .I’ve never been in that situation before, I think I was worrying over nothing . . . but now I’m sure it was okay. You don’t have to apologise, you didn’t do anything wrong.”
He chuckled softly, “But I can see exactly what I’ve done wrong . . . I’ve even tempted you into doubting your own convictions, and I knew that at the time.”
“But it was just a kiss. . .” she persisted, like a child unwilling to give up a special treat.
“No, not just a kiss, and potentially a whole lot more than that. You don’t know from experience where it all leads to, but I certainly do - and despite the temptation of having an incredibly desirable woman within my reach - I should never have started in the first place knowing how hard it would be to stop. I will just have to wait until you are mine.”
There was a long pause before Claire responded, the sense of privacy of speaking over the phone allowing her speak much more candidly with him then usual.
“I don’t know what you must think of me,” she admitted ruefully, “I know exactly what you’re saying, but I still don’t want to feel sorry that it happened.”
“Half of me doesn’t want to either!” he agreed, “But the other half knows that I’m answerable to God for how I take care of you. It’s all new for me as well, this is the first relationship I’ve had since becoming a Christian, and it really is a whole new ball game. That’s why we need to spend time talking through all these things, start making those little steps in the right direction. But you’re about to have tea? Can I call back later?”
“Yes, I suppose that would be better. I’m sorry, I’d love to talk but I really need to finish getting it ready, I was already running late before you rang.” She thought quickly, “Would eight o’clock be okay, I should have the kitchen cleaned up by then, and there’s a current affairs program that David likes to watch then, so I wouldn’t be keeping him off the internet.”
Cameron agreed readily, but she had a sudden thought, “But don’t you usually go up to your parent’s on Friday nights?”
“That’s okay, I can go later or in the morning . . . I’d stay down for the weekend and arrange some time with you, except that I committed myself months ago to a youth group outing tomorrow, and I can’t leave them in the lurch now.” She could hear the regret in his voice, “But talking to you tonight will be a good start. Goodbye until then.”
© R Brown 2005