"Chapter 2"

"Pelican Point"

© R. L. Brown 2005

Chapter 2

Claire shivered slightly as she walked down the gently sloping lawn towards the basketball court, where a few of the patients had already begun assembling for a game of basketball. When Dr Alexander had explained that he'd wanted her to help out with the game after lunch, she'd changed into track pants and a t-shirt but now that she felt the fresh breeze blowing straight off the water she wished that she'd kept her jumper on.

It was overcast and the lake was grey and choppy, tiny waves being driven by the wind across its normally calm surface. The softly folded hills beyond the lake were shadowed light and dark by the clouds passing swiftly above, and the more distant mountains rising up behind the hills were deep purple. She had always loved the lake, and had grown up nearby, enjoying both the bracing autumn days like this one and the hot, still days of summer when the water glimmered like polished glass.

Dr Alexander had told her that in spring and summer they made the most of the lake, and organised sailing and waterskiing, and that the patients particularly enjoyed racing the jet skis. She thought that it sounded wonderful, and hoped that she would still be there when the warmer weather came.

She walked slowly, glad for a quiet few minutes to think over everything that had happened that morning. She was still a bit shaken about mistaking Dr Alexander for a patient, although he had been okay about it, and actually seemed to have enjoyed seeing her embarrassment over the incident. And it was bad enough that she'd felt like an infatuated school girl in his presence when she'd thought he was just a patient . . .but now that she knew he was her boss it made things even worse.

He was a Christian, which was the most unexpected development of all, and it would be easy enough to find out from Jenny, Justin Muxlow's wife, a bit more about him, and how serious he really was about spiritual things.

She caught herself suddenly - it was ridiculous thinking about such things - he was her boss, and even if he hadn't been, she knew enough about people to know that a man like Cameron Alexander was well and truly out of her league.

No, she wouldn't even think about him again, she was here to do everything she could to keep this job, and she was sure that developing a crush on her boss would have to be one of the shortest routes to unemployment that she could find.

As she got closer to the basketball court she saw that while several of the patients were sitting around together and chatting, one youth was sitting apart at the end of the court. She realised that he was one of the young men whom she and Dr Alexander had sat with at lunch, and while his respect for "Doc Alex" was clearly evident, he had been very quiet and hardly taken any part in the lively lunch time conversation. He didn't look up as Claire approached him, but continued to stare out over the wind-swept lake.

"G'day, Tyrone - it's nice to find someone I know." she said as she sat down on the low brick wall beside him. He turned and regarded her with a half smile, brushing away the long dark hair that fell over his face.

"How's your first day, Claire?"

"Oh, you know - it's never easy doing something new." she began, hoping she could break the ice, "But this afternoon looks like being fun - I'm glad I don't have to sit behind a desk all day. I don't know what they want me to do, but I don't really enjoy watching anything from the sidelines, so I hope I get to join in the game."

"What? Think you'd enjoy playing basketball with a bunch of cripples?" he asked, his brown eyes so dark they were nearly black and revealed an incredible depth of unhappiness, "Must be a shock to get a job somewhere like this."

"Yes - it is actually. In my last job there would have been only a handful out of nearly forty who could even use a manual wheelchair." She answered bluntly, deciding if she was to have any chance of getting to know him she would have to be completely open about herself.

"I can't tell you what a pleasant change it is to be somewhere like this where everyone is capable of looking after themselves. There's not much you guys can't do - whereas someone like my brother can't even feed himself."

Tyrone's eyes were wide, "Why? What happened to him?"

"David has cerebral palsy," she explained carefully, seeing that Tyrone was making a speedy reassessment of her. "Some people with mild C.P. might only have a little more difficulty walking or some other minor problems, but others can be very severely disabled, both mentally and physically. In David's case his mind is fine - brilliant actually - but because he has almost no control over his body, he can hardly even talk."

She sighed deeply, her heart aching as she spoke of him, "That's the main reason I wish I still had my old job - it was at the Centre that David goes to through the day. He'll be home not long after me this evening, but I much preferred working where he was. I know that he'll be fine, but this is the first day I've been away from him for years."

Claire looked out across the lake, embarrassed by the tremor in her voice. Of course he'll be okay, she told herself, and David himself thought it could be a good thing for us to have some time apart.

"Well, he's a lucky guy to have a sister like you." Tyrone said after they had sat in silence for a few minutes.

"Oh, no - David puts me to shame, Tyrone - he's an incredible person." she answered quickly, "He has such a strong faith in God, and he just makes the best of every day as it comes. A friend of ours set him up with a computer, and he spends half the night on the internet chatting with friends and reading up on all sorts of things. He's even got a voice synthesiser program on the computer so that it says aloud what he types in with a mouth stick. That way we can actually talk to each other much more easily. But I look at someone like you, or Dr Alexander and even with the challenges you face, I'm really a bit jealous of how much more you can do than David will ever be able to."

"It's okay for someone like him!" he snapped back, "Not his fault that he's in a wheelchair - but I brought this all on myself!"

"What happened, Tyrone?" she prompted gently, her eyes pricking with tears as she looked at his smooth, young face. He was so young, she didn't think he'd be much over eighteen if he was even that.

"Was blind drunk and took a spin on my friend's dirt bike. Straight into a tree." he continued angrily, "My folks reckon since I made my bed, I gotta lie in it. Said they're not going to waste their lives nursing me just 'cause I was such an idiot. I'm sure they would have been happier if I'd been killed outright. That's why I'm here - no-one else is going to look after me - and if I can't learn how to myself they're just going to stick me in some nursing home. Rather die than get stuck in a home with geriatrics or vegetables."

Claire caught her breath, How awful! How could his family be so cruel? Aloud she said, "But there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to look after yourself with a bit of help, is there? How far up was your spinal cord injured?"

"Doc Alex says it's at the same level he broke his back. Luckily it's much lower down my spine than some guys here." he answered with a sarcastic emphasis on the "luckily", "Don't know how anyone thinks I'm lucky when I'm never going to walk again. What kind of life's that? "

"If it's a similar injury to Dr Alexander's, I'd guess that in time you should be able to do just as much him. Can you imagine if anyone tried to stick him in a nursing home? I think they'd have reason to fear for their lives!"

Tyrone laughed, and Claire was so relieved to see him smile that she too began to giggle at the thought of anyone trying to make Dr Alexander do anything he didn't want to.

"Yeah - but he's different," Tyrone shrugged, his admiration of him obvious , ". . . he's strong . . .he can cope with it . . . I'm nothing like him at all."

No, but neither is David . . .but his strength comes from God, not from himself, she wanted to say, but before she could put it into words Tyrone had turned away from her, looking over at the other men in wheelchairs forming into teams on the court.

"Better go over too." he said abruptly, and began to wheel himself towards the others. Claire walked with him, until he paused in front half a dozen different wheelchairs marked with Pelican Point logos standing by the court.

"Chris says I should try a sports chair. . .something with a lower back than this." he began uncertainly, "Like the black one Skinner's using - see."

Claire looked to where he was pointing, and nudged him, "Why not give it a go then, Tyrone - can you transfer yourself or do you want me to give you a hand?"

"I'll try." he said, and lining himself up with the sports chair began to manoeuvre himself across into it. He got about halfway in before getting stuck, and as soon as Claire saw the look of panic flash across his face she reached out and helped him the rest of the way.

"How's it feel?" she asked positively, before he had a chance to resent needing her help, "Reckon you'll give Skinner a run for his money?"

"Long as I don't fall out." he said grimly, "Chris says it'll take a bit a gettin' used to havin' no sides on the chair - but it'll be easier for playin' sport. Don't see the point of tryin' to play sport now anyway."

Her thoughts were troubled as he moved away and joined the others on the court. Now that they were with other people she saw Tyrone withdraw back inside himself again. Silently she lifted her fears for him up to God in prayer, asking for wisdom to know what she should do.

Claire looked up to see Dr Alexander looking at her, beckoning her over as soon as she met his eyes.

"What do you think you were doing?" he demanded, his voice low but forceful.

"What do you mean?" she felt a cold panic rushing over her. What had she done wrong? Surely he wasn't referring to her talking to Tyrone?

"I just saw you lifting Tyrone into a wheelchair. That's not part of your job - the policy here is that only medical staff do patient transfers."

"There was no-one else nearby and he got stuck. It didn't even occur to me not to help." she shot back, remembering Tyrone's look of panic when he realised he couldn't do it himself, "And this morning you gave me the distinct impression that you were fairly relaxed about protocol and policies here."

"This is different Claire - that kind of lifting is not part of your job description, and if you injured your back by lifting wrongly you won't be covered by our insurance. You know now - don't do it again."

She glared at him, angered by his insensitive attitude, "Believe me, I am not about to injure my back by lifting the wrong way! I know what I'm doing, and I will not sit on my hands and make someone like Tyrone feel even more self-conscious by refusing to help him! It has nothing to do with whether it's my job or not - it's basic human decency to help someone who needs it - and in the same situation I'll do exactly the same again! And if that isn't covered by my job description, perhaps you should change it so it is!"

As soon as the words has left her mouth Claire realised she was wrong to have challenged her boss like that, but she'd only reacted so angrily because she was still upset about what Tyrone had told her. But what would Dr Alexander think of her after an outburst like that? He was still staring at her in silence and while she couldn't understand his strange expression she had no doubt that he would be very angry at her.

"I'm so sorry . . ."she began aghast, dreading the repercussions she was sure would follow, "I was upset but I had no right to say that to you. . .. . .I know I'm out of line . . .I'm really sorry."

"That's okay Claire, forget it - we can talk about it later." his friendly reply and relaxed smile was completely unexpected, and before she could register what was happening, he'd blown his whistle and had begun organising everyone into two teams.

Chris and another physiotherapist had sat down in wheelchairs, taking one team each and Claire wondered what she would be asked to do - probably being on stand-by and doing things like retrieving the ball when it went out of the court. After a few minutes of good natured jostling about the teams, Chris called out to Dr Alexander, "Hey - we're one short! What about Claire?"

She looked uncertainly at Dr Alexander, but he grinned at her widely, her enthusiasm returning as she realised that he held no resentment toward her. "Are you game?" he teased, "I have to warn you that they play pretty rough."

"Come on Claire!" Chris encouraged.

"I'm game for anything," she laughed, as the young men on Chris's team cheered and whistled for her to join them, "Who knows, I might teach you all a thing or two!"

There was a chorus of laughter, and the burly man Tyrone had pointed out as Skinner called out, "You gotta sit down like us love, then we'll see who's laughing! It's not as easy as it looks from where you're standing, you know."

"Go on Claire, get into a chair," Dr Alexander told her, "If you are really going to do it, you better do it properly."

She walked over to where three spare wheelchairs were lined up beside the court, and sat down in the fluoro green one she'd seen Dr Alexander using in the corridor before lunch.

"No, I don't think so!" he called out to her, shaking his head, "That's a bit too unstable for a beginner."

"So I hear!" she retorted with a wink, executing a tight turn in the chair for his benefit before pushing herself over to join her team mates. Seeing the glint in his eyes she knew that he hadn't missed her point.

"It's your last chance, Claire. Are you sure you're up to this?" he challenged as she lined up with the others, but before she'd even had a chance to answer, he'd blown the whistle and hurled the basketball toward her. It was coming hard and fast directly toward her face, but her reflexes were sharp and she caught it unflinchingly.

In that moment before he'd thrown the ball she'd noticed his sly smile as he looked at her, and she realised that he was testing her to see if she could take as good as she gave. Well, I'll show him! she thought determinedly, as she leant back in the chair to gain momentum and flung the ball high over his head, watching in satisfaction as it bounced off the back board and then circled the hoop before dropping into the net.

"Yeah, I reckon I'm up to this." she answered coolly, to the wild applause of her team mates. Score one for the new girl! she thought with satisfaction, as the game began in earnest. The men did play as rough as she had been warned, and she was sure that they were all infected by Dr Alexander's contagious live hard, play hard attitude. She was pleased to see Tyrone losing his self consciousness in the heat of the fiercely contested battle, and he seemed to have forgotten all about his fear of falling.

While at first she'd wondered how Dr Alexander could justify spending his afternoon playing sports with his patients, she soon saw what an excellent opportunity it was for him and the two other staff to subtly assess their patients progress and unobtrusively train them. A curt reminder to someone about posture or balance was much more effective received in the middle of the basketball court than it would have been in his consulting room, and the desire to score seemed to give the men a greater courage to extend themselves and experiment with their ability than if they had been consciously aware of what they were doing.

Although some of the men were much more restricted in their mobility than others, Dr Alexander had carefully positioned them on the court and directed the play so they were still able to participate fully in the game. By the time he blew the final whistle, Claire was exhausted but exhilarated.

It was hard to believe that she was getting paid for having so much fun, and during the game she knew that she had gained the respect of the other patients and staff by her willingness to play as roughly as any of them. She'd noticed Dr Alexander watching her a few times during the game, but she was still very concerned about what impression he might be forming of her.

If only she had not been so outspoken to him - she never usually reacted like that with anyone else - but something about him completely unnerved her.

Several patients had gathered around him at one end of the court as he and one of the physios demonstrated a pass and Claire surveyed the group with interest. Tyrone was certainly the youngest, and she guessed that Skinner was probably about 40, but the rest were only in their twenties.

Claire had not been surprised to find that the centre's current intake was entirely male, and that women made up only a very small proportion of the total patients treated at Pelican Point. The lifestyle and peer culture of young men like Tyrone made them particularly vulnerable to spinal injuries from car accidents and sports, and quite often violence, right at the time of life when they felt invincible.

She watched as Dr Alexander spoke to the group, looking younger than ever as his fair hair was ruffled by the gusty breeze, and found herself wondering how his own injury had happened. When they'd been talking before lunch he'd made only a vague reference to an "accident" that had occurred a few years after he'd finished uni, but while she was curious, Claire knew there was no way she'd ask him about it.

I've already made more than enough mistakes concerning him already, she thought gloomily, and I'm going to have to be very careful from now on.

As the patients began to disperse, Dr Alexander caught her eye and came over to where she was still sitting in the wheelchair

"You can bring that chair back up to the gym with you," he said, "I'm going back up there now. I have a review with the team leaders every afternoon at four, and I'll need you to come and take the minutes for me. I wonder if you can wheel yourself all the way up - or are you going to get out and push?"

Her arms felt like lead, but the note of challenge in his voice was not lost on her and realising that it would be admitting defeat to get out and walk, she remained seated and followed him toward the pathway that led to the main building. He stopped and waited for her, watching as she negotiated an uneven join in the concrete.

"You've obviously done this before."

"Yes, quite a lot actually. For the last few years in my previous job, apart from supervising the office staff, I coordinated all of our Recreational and Diversional Therapy programs, so I had a lot of opportunities to help out with wheelchair sports, and training patients to use wheelchairs." she answered as they made their way up the path, "My old boss was a wonderful man - sorry, I didn't mean that how it came out - but he encouraged me be involved in just about every facet of our centre. I think I learnt more because I didn't have any one discipline, and just did whatever had to be done, and worked with physios, therapists, the rehab nurses, and learnt something new literally every day."

"You sound like you were happy there."

"Very happy, I couldn't have worked in a better place. I started as a volunteer at 17, and was given a paid position about six months later, and just worked my way up from there. The boss took a personal interest in us, and treated me like a daughter - he helped us out in a lot of ways - like when they upgraded their vehicles he sold me one of their old vans very cheaply, and let me pay it off from my salary, and he really encouraged me to give everything a shot. "

"So why did you leave if it was so good?" he challenged with a smile, and although Claire was a little unnerved by his close attention to her, she found it easier chatting like this without the pressure of meeting his eyes as she answered.

"I certainly didn't want to, but when the director retired the new management brought in their own ideas, and restructured the whole place. Despite everything I'd been doing for the last ten years, since I had no formal qualifications the only option they gave me was to either leave, or be reclassified as an untrained personal care assistant and take more than a 50% pay cut. Getting this job was an incredible answer to prayer."

"Didn't you ever consider studying so that you could gain the qualifications you needed?"

"No - I've needed a full-time income since I left school, and it's never been possible for me to study part-time, so getting any kind of qualifications has never been an option. Anyway, I'm quite content with what I'm doing." she chuckled, "Though I must admit it gives me a great deal of satisfaction knowing that my job is now being done by a woman with a double degree, and that she doesn't manage to do half as much as I did."

"So you still keep in touch with the centre?"

"Yes, of course - and I didn't finish up there until last Friday. While I was applying for this job I kept working there, and just had to wear the pay cut and the other changes while I waited to see what would happen here."

"That's very interesting," he said, as they went in through the automatic doors at the building's entrance and headed along the corridor, "I didn't really know what you'd been doing in your last job - I have to admit I only glanced over the applications, and once I saw your connection with the Muxlow's I didn't really read any further."

"No wonder you were surprised I got the job without having any qualifications." she laughed, waiting for him to open the door to the gymnasium. Entering first it took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dimness of the room after the brightly lit corridor, and she looked with interest around the huge hall and it's silent rows of weight benches and gleaming equipment.

"About the lifting Claire -" Dr Alexander began, his deep voice echoing as the door clicked shut behind him, and he moved past her into the room.

"No, please - I'm so sorry about what I said," she interrupted quickly, self consciously dropping her voice to a whisper in the cavernous room, "I was just upset about Tyrone . . .we had been talking, and what he said really worried me."

Dr Alexander stopped dead in his tracks, and spun around to face her. He hadn't turned on the lights, and the strong line of his jaw was silhouetted against the filtered daylight coming from the high windows. While they were both seated Claire had to look up to meet his eyes, and she felt a new awareness of his height and dominating presence as he stared at her.

"Go on." he commanded.

In spite of his authoritative tone, she hesitated, not knowing if it would it be betraying Tyrone's confidence if she told Dr Alexander what she feared. I'm probably wrong about Tyrone, but if I am right . . .she carefully weighed the possibility, and decided that she had to tell him.

"Obviously I've only just met Tyrone and for all I know he might always talk like that, but something about him was so like some others I've known . . .I mean, it's no more than a gut feeling . . ."

"What's your gut feeling?" he demanded impatiently.

"That he might be suicidal. . .but if that's the case, I'm sure you'd be aware of that too."

He didn't answer, but narrowed his eyes as he looked at her, and Claire wondered if he thought she was overstepping her place, and tried to explain, "I'm probably overreacting, but it's just the way he talked about his family, and how they want nothing to do with him now . . .and he doesn't seem to have any hope at all for the future, and -"

"He talked to you about his family?" his voice was so hard, that she was sure she had done the wrong thing.

"I'm sorry, should I have not spoken to him?" she asked in confusion.

"No - it's not that at all - you can't know how glad I am that you did." He let out a long, slow breath.

"I just can't believe that you've found out more about Tyrone on your first day here than we have in nearly two months. We've been very worried about him, we've arranged countless sessions with counsellors and psychologists, but he just completely closes up to everybody. I wonder why he spoke to you?"

"He knew I would understand." she answered simply, relieved to find out that Dr Alexander was already concerned about him - and that he approved of what she'd done. He listened intently while she told him everything that Tyrone had said to her.

"That gives us something to work with now." he said when she had finished, "Thank you for taking the time to talk to him Claire - please, if you have any more opportunities when he feels comfortable talking with you, I want you to put that before anything else. It doesn't matter if the phone goes unanswered or the filing piles up - you know I think paperwork is a poor second to people. You've done well."

He smiled warmly, his deep blue eyes holding hers, and Claire tried to ignore the way her heart raced when he looked at her like that.

"Do you mind if I go and make myself a coffee before your meeting?" she asked quickly, wanting to escape before he noticed her blushing, "Can I get you one?"

"No thanks, I don't touch the stuff, but go ahead and make yourself one," he glanced at his watch, "I'll be up in a minute."

Sister Lynette Jones, the head nurse at Pelican Point, was already seated at the conference table with Dr Alexander when Claire paused at his open door a few minutes later. Lynette had been one of the three people on the panel for her interview, and Claire had known she would like her from the moment she had seen her sitting at the table between two sombre men in suits. She was a vivacious woman in her mid thirties, with bottle blonde hair and a full, curvaceous figure. She wore a long flowing dress, and chunky silver earrings and rings, and half a dozen silver bangles jingled on her wrist as she picked up her mug from the table, and drank deeply.

"Oh, Claire - come in, darling!" she called out when she noticed her standing in the door way, "I'm glad you've got yourself a cuppa too - Cameron and Chris always try to make me feel guilty! Health food fanatics can be so tiresome."

Dr Alexander had been reading some reports, but looked up at Claire as she entered, and as her eyes met his she felt the same unsettling nervousness race through her as when she'd first met him that morning. She was annoyed at herself about it, because the more determined she became not to react to him like that, the worse it seemed to get.

"Do you prefer to take minutes on paper, or do you want to use the computer?" he asked her, indicating the computer on his desk, which adjoined the conference table.

"The computer please - it's networked in with mine downstairs, isn't it?"

He nodded, and took a quick sip from a half empty bottle of mineral water before joining her at his desk. She rolled a chair over from the conference table and sat down beside him in front of the computer, and he reached across to the mouse, and quickly closed several screens before bringing up the word processor that Claire had been using at her desk that morning.

Although she knew she was perfectly competent at minute taking in meetings like this, Claire felt uncharacteristically tense, and she wondered if her nervousness had less to do with the minute taking and more to do with the fact that Dr Alexander was still sitting close beside her, the distinctive scent of his aftershave faint but perceptible as he watched over her shoulder as she began to set up the page.

"Here I am!" Chris's voice boomed as he came in from the corridor, his bulky frame filling the doorway. With his swarthy complexion and body builders physique, Claire thought he looked more like a security guard or bouncer than an physiotherapist.

"'Bout time too!" Dr Alexander replied gruffly, although Claire saw that he was grinning as he returned to his place at the conference table.

"So how was your first day, Claire?" Chris asked as he turned a chair around backwards, and straddled it, his brows raised inquiringly.

"Very interesting," she answered with a smile, knowing she could not begin to describe the kind of day she had, "But I was just thinking to myself that I might see about swapping desks with Dr Alexander on a more permanent basis - this is an incredible view!"

The others turned to follow her gaze though the huge picture window opposite, which gave panoramic views across the lake - the late afternoon sun reflected in a thousand starry points on the surface of the choppy water.

"Keep dreaming!" Dr Alexander chuckled, "And if I notice that you're staring out of the window instead of taking notes, I promise you I'll close the blinds!"

Claire was relieved that the meeting was run informally, and the close friendship and mutual respect between the doctor, and the heads of his nursing and physical therapy teams was clearly evident. As they discussed each of the patients in turn, both Chris and Lynette reported how they were progressing, and then all three discussed any problems that needed addressing or new strategies to implement.

Claire's job was to make brief notes on each of Chris and Lynette's reports, and to note down the doctor's summary of progress and any proposed changes to the patient's program. It was easier to keep up with them than she had anticipated, as their discussion was salted with anecdotes and jovial banter, and Dr Alexander was particularly clear as he made his summaries.

But Claire's heart began to hammer when he picked up the last file on his desk and said, "That leaves us with Tyrone. Chris, I know you mentioned to me at lunch time that you are particularly concerned about him, and Claire told me earlier that from her discussion with him she also feels he may be suicidal. Will you report on what he told you today, Claire?"

"No, no, no!" Claire stammered, shaking her head vehemently. I can't betray Tyrone's trust like this! she thought in cold dismay, and although her heart was hammering she replied firmly, "My discussion with Tyrone is not something I can report on - it was a just private conversation - not some kind of assessment or interview. I only told you about it because I was so worried about him."

"Darling, we're a team here," Lynette said gently, "and we can't help people like Tyrone unless we all work together as a team."

"Yes - you are a team, but I'm not part of that team. I am just the receptionist - I'm only here in this meeting to take notes!"

"Claire, you're as much a part of this team as the rest of us." Chris added, "If you only realised how hard we have all been trying to get him to open up to us these last couple of months."

Her hands were shaking but she hid them under the desk, and kept her voice low and even as she answered.

"I had a private conversation with Tyrone - not as part of my job, it was simply chatting as friends. It doesn't matter whether you think I'm a part of the team or not - when I spoke to Tyrone I had no perception that I was accountable in this kind of way, and he certainly did not speak to me with any idea that I was a member of this team. The very fact that he did speak so openly with me if he hasn't with any of you makes it obvious that he sees my position here quite differently. I am sure that when we spoke, the last thing he expected was that I would then go and table a report of our conversation to all of you."

The room was silent for several moments when she finished speaking, and she fought to keep her breathing even as she stared at Dr Alexander, waiting for his response.

"Well argued, Claire - you've made a very legitimate point. What you are saying is perfectly right," he answered finally, his blue eyes holding hers unwaveringly, "But . . .for Tyrone's sake you are overruled. I understand that you believe it is a breach of confidence, but I think that is outweighed by the gravity of the situation. Now, do you want to tell Chris and Lynette everything you have told me, or shall I?"

Claire nodded in acceptance of his decision, and leant back against her chair with a sigh, "Please, doctor . . .if you don't mind."

Lynette met her eyes and gave her a friendly smile, and although Claire realised that they had respected her for her stand, her misgivings were still strong as Dr Alexander relayed to the others everything Tyrone had told her. But once they began to discuss the new information about him she realised that it was a powerful tool in very capable hands, and by the time she finally noted the computer with their proposed strategies she felt completely at peace about the situation.

Dr Alexander would try making contact with his family, and see if perhaps Tyrone had mistaken their attitude to him, although the fact that they had not shown any interest in his rehab program made him less than hopeful. If Tyrone had given a fair representation of their attitude then they would look at the possibility of seeing if a social worker might be of some benefit in improving the relationships within his family.

He would also consider further the possibility of rooming him with another patient - though at this stage he wasn't sure who might be suitable. Chris would fast track his team in teaching life skills to Tyrone, to help him build up his confidence in his ability to care for himself as quickly as possible. Lynette would rearrange the duties of his personal care nurses so there could be more continuity in having the same carers assigned to him regularly.

And all the way through their discussion, each of them had assured Claire that they would be very subtle about the changes they were proposing, so that Tyrone would have no reason to think that she had passed on what he had told her.

When Dr Alexander finally added Tyrone's file to the pile on his right, his conversation with Chris and Lynette became more light-hearted as they moved on to more general matters. He glanced her way briefly and nodded when Claire asked if she could use his printer, but seemed surprised when she handed him the completed minutes.

"I'm sorry to interrupt, but it's five o'clock and I need to leave now to be home when my brother arrives. Is it okay if I leave you this draft of the minutes to check? I can make any corrections you want first thing in the morning, and then I'll update each of the files with a printed copy." she suggested, dismayed to see the startled look on his face as he stared at the sheets in his hand. "I'm sorry, this isn't what you wanted? Haven't I done it well enough?"

"No, no - that's fine Claire." he reassured her, but his face wore the same unreadable expression she'd seen after she'd argued with him about lifting Tyrone on the basketball court, "It's just . . .just a different format to what I was expecting. But this is fine, thank you. I'll see you in the morning."

As she closed the door behind her as she left his office, she let out a deep sigh. What a complicated day it had been! But the most complicated part of it all was the way she felt whenever she was in the presence of Dr Alexander.

Cameron Alexander stared at the printed sheets in his hands and shook his head in disbelief. Under a heading of the date and time, and a listing of those present, were the entire minutes of the meeting. Each of the following sections were headed in bold type with the patient's name and details and a new computerised filing number, and beneath those details was an accurate summary of the reports from Chris and Lynette's teams and a complete list of the recommendations made. Skimming quickly through it he saw that the notes were clearly worded and incredibly precise.

"Have a look at this!" he said, passing the sheet across to Lynette.

"Wow!" she exclaimed, and showed it to Chris.

Chris let out a low whistle, "Did she really type all that out while we were talking?"

Cameron nodded, "It's a lot different to the illegible chicken scratchings that Paula used to do for us, isn't it! It took me completely by surprise when Claire handed it to me when she left." He leant back in his chair and put his hands behind his head, "Well, I'm impressed. What do you two think of our new addition?"

"I'm incredibly relieved, Cameron," Lynette laughed, her bangles clanging as passed the minutes back to him, "Because I convinced the panel to select her I was really hoping I'd made the right choice. I thought you'd have a fit when you came back and saw that we'd hired the only applicant who had no qualifications whatsoever! But honestly, we could see she had more experience and practical ability for this job than the rest of them put together."

Chris nodded in agreement, "I think we're onto a winner, she's certainly got a brain in her head, too. Unlike Paula - she was next to useless! Every time you walked into the room her eyes went wide and her mind went blank!" he grinned at Cameron, "I never quite worked out if she was infatuated with you, or intimidated by you!"

"Neither did I, but I didn't mind in either case!" Cameron answered.

"You boys are dreadful!" Lynette shook her head at them, "I'm glad Claire isn't too intimidated by our incorrigible Dr Alexander to speak her mind. Good on her."

"Definitely not intimidated." Chris agreed, "In fact I noticed her hands on her hips and looking anything but intimidated when she was laying into you about something before the basketball game. What was that all about?"

"I saw her transferring Tyrone to another wheelchair so -"

"I noticed that too - she knows what she's doing." Chris cut in.

"Yes, well I told her not to do it again, as lifting patients was not part of her job and she wouldn't be covered by our insurance if she injured herself doing it." he laughed, remembering the fire in her eyes as she argued with him.

"And after she'd lectured me about my lack of basic human decency she told me that no matter what I said, she would go ahead and lift patients if they needed help, and if that didn't fit her job description, I should change the job description."

"She's a brave one to challenge you about running this place, Cameron. What did you say?" asked Lynette.

"Nothing! I was absolutely speechless." he admitted, shaking his head, "But she's got a point - if we want to have her helping out with the patients, it isn't workable to put those kind restrictions on her. Especially considering the kind of experience and responsibility she's had in her last job. I'll look into the insurance side of things tomorrow - but I can't see it being too great a problem."

"Hah! I think the new girl's actually intimidated you mate, if she's already got you meeting her demands!!" Chris exclaimed, "You've got a fiery redhead on your hands here, Cameron!"

"I'm sure she wouldn't like being called a fiery redhead, Chris," Lynette objected, "besides - her hair's actually auburn."

"Ginger," said Cameron decisively, remembering how her hair had glistened with golden streaks of ginger in the sun while they were playing basketball, "Claire reminds me of a ginger kitten, with ten sharp little claws and ready to pounce! And this was only her first day!"

Chris and Lynette laughed, and he had no doubt that they were as satisfied as he was with Claire's suitability for the job. A little later, when he was alone again, Cameron turned and stared out of his window, thinking deeply as he watched the low clouds behind the mountains begin to colour brilliantly beneath the setting sun.

Claire was certainly special - and he was already aware that his appreciation of her went much deeper than just that of an impressed boss.

© R Brown 2005