On Monday morning, as Claire kept glancing hopefully at the glass doors opposite her desk, she knew without a doubt she had never felt as happy in her whole life. It seemed impossible not to smile, and songs of praise and sheer joy flowed incessantly from her heart.
David had understood at a glance what had developed the moment she’d taken dinner downstairs to him on Friday night and Jenny and Justin had teased her mercilessly from the moment they had first seen her at church on Sunday, and although she shared little of what was so wonderful and private to her, it seemed only natural that those closest to her would share in her joy.
She looked again at the clock, willing its hands to speed for her sake, so great was her longing to see Cameron again. It seemed an age since they’d been together, but at the same time they had already travelled so far together since Friday afternoon.
When he’d rung back later that night, she’d been amazed by how easily they’d been able to discuss even the deepest things together, and although she felt his closeness tangibly through the phone line, the physical distance between them seemed to minimise her shyness and awkwardness with him.
An hour had passed like mere minutes, and although she’d ended the call then so that David could get back onto the internet, Cameron had rung back the next night at the same time, and the next . . . each time the hour evaporating in moments, but drawing them closer and closer together.
She heard the doors open, and looked up to see her own happiness reflected in the warm expression on Cameron’s face.
“Good morning, my sweet love,” he smiled as he drew beside her. “That must have been the longest weekend in my entire life!” He looked as though he were about to take her into his arms but hesitated awkwardly, and then reached into his pocket. “This is for you.”
Claire reached out to take the small rectangular package from him, quite overwhelmed by his thoughtfulness. No-one had ever treated her as though she were this special . . .
Carefully she undid the ribbon around it and opened the lid, biting her lip as she lifted out a small object wrapped in tissue paper. With shaking hands she unwrapped the delicate paper, gasping in delight as she revealed a perfect porcelain kitten.
“Oh, Cameron, it’s beautiful!” she breathed, looking up at him in wonder, “Where ever did you find it?”
He smiled, his pleasure obvious. “Mum has a favourite shop in Singleton - she’s dragged me there many times in the past - but when I dropped in on Saturday morning I couldn’t have imagined finding something so perfect for you. I wanted you to know exactly what I had in mind when I called you Ginger.”
Claire nodded, running her finger tip over the gorgeous miniature of a ginger coloured kitten, every detail perfect and it’s huge amber eyes glowing as though alive.
“It is perfect. We had a kitten just like this once . . .” She was dismayed as a sudden flood of memories stabbed her heart painfully, and her eyes suddenly stung with tears, and she quickly replaced the ornament in its box, automatically turning her back to Cameron as she determinedly clamped down on her emotions.
“What is it?” he asked in concern, noticing her sudden withdrawal.
“Oh, nothing . . .” she began to answer brightly, about to make a quick excuse about having dust in her eye, before realising that she didn’t want to hide from him any longer, as she had always done with everyone else. Slowly she turned back around to face him, gently placing the kitten on the palm of her hand and holding it up to show him, no longer ashamed of the tremor in her voice.
“We had a kitten just like this, the same brown eyes and tiny chin, and she was the most gorgeous little thing imaginable, but I hadn’t thought of her for a long time now. It just caught me by surprise when I suddenly remembered.”
“She died?” he asked gently taking her other hand in his.
Claire shrugged, “I don’t know. She disappeared straight after Mum died . . . she must have gone looking for Mum and gotten lost. But I couldn’t go and search for her . . . and I’ve never known what happened. I just tried not to think about it, I’d forgotten how much that had hurt on top of everything else.”
“I’d say the first person who saw her probably picked her up and took her home. She was probably too spoiled to think about finding her real home again.” He squeezed her hand gently, his touch conveying so much more than his words.
“That’s a lovely thought - it never occurred to me like that - but it could really be true. I’d like to have another kitten just like that . . . one day.” Claire smiled up at him in gratitude, feeling the strength of his fingers around hers, “It’s never been easy for me to talk about . . .some things, but I’m glad I told you.”
“I’m glad you told me too,” he replied, gazing deeply into her eyes, “and I hope you will tell me many more things as well. For a start I’d like to know what else is on your “one day” list - ”
The sound of the doors sliding open jolted them back into an awareness of their surroundings, and Cameron leaned forward so he was obscured by the computer monitor and quickly raised her hand to his mouth and kissed her fingertips.
In a moment he had let go and leant back, but there had been something so intimate in that lightest touching of his lips against her skin that Claire felt hot all through. Cameron winked as they heard voices approaching, and asked formally, “So, have you got my mail ready for me yet?”
She met his secret smile with an answering one of pure happiness but handed him the bundle of papers with seeming efficiency, just as Tyrone appeared around the side of her desk.
“So you’ve come to take my place in the sun, young man?” Cameron teased him as he relinquished his position.
Tyrone grinned, but Cameron was barely out of earshot when he noticed Claire quickly replacing the kitten into the box.
“Wow, a present! Doc has gone all soft!” he exclaimed, “What did he give you - let me see!”
Embarrassed by the sound of more people entering the foyer, Claire showed it to him briefly, before carefully rewrapping it in tissue and hiding the box away.
“Ahh, a little ginger kitten. So that’s why he calls you Ginger.”
“Shh!” Claire hissed, thumping him in the arm, “It’s a secret, Ty! Please!”
“Of course - just another weapon of blackmail to use against you,” his dark eyes glinted with humour and then softened, “Nah, I’m pleased it’s all going well for you, knew it would, but. Made for each other.”
Claire gave his hand a quick squeeze, “Thanks, Ty. I think so too.”
The afternoon meeting concluded with ten minutes to spare before five, and as Chris and Lynette filed out of his office Cameron leaned forward onto the table in front of him, watching Claire as she finished her work on the computer at this desk.
Although they were separated by the length of the conference table, the mere fact of being in her presence filled him with pleasure, just as it had whenever they had crossed paths through the day. The progress they had made during their phone calls over the weekend had been remarkable, and he appreciated how openly they had been able to discuss their relationship.
By remaining where he was seated he was acting on their mutual decision to keep their distance when they were alone in his office, although right at that moment he regretted ever having made that suggestion. He leant on his elbows, propping up his chin in his hands thinking of how very much he would like to go over there to her, take her in his arms and kiss those inviting lips thoroughly. Claire glanced up and meeting his eyes, blushed rosily, revealing how accurately she had read his thoughts.
The distance between us is physical only, Cameron mused as she lowered her eyes to the screen again, how long will I have to wait until we can be together?
There was no doubt she was as serious in contemplating marriage as he was, although at this stage she could not see past what, to her, were the insurmountable obstacles of her family, either for the long term or even just the present difficulties of arranging to spend time together. But as far as Cameron was concerned, nothing was insurmountable by the strength of his love and he was confident of sorting out the future complications as readily as the current ones.
The printer began its work, and Claire sat back in her chair looking at him with that stirringly shy smile that was for him alone.
“Do you remember that part at the end of your Statement of Duties,” he began lazily, “where it says ‘and any other duties as directed’?”
“Uh-oh. This is going to be good.”
He nodded. “You know the State Conference at Tamworth that I’m speaking at on Friday? I’ll be needing secretarial support.”
“Really? I didn’t think you’d taken a secretary to any conferences in the past.”
“No, but I have never had such a superior secretary before.” He met her challenging smile, “And it would be such a lovely drive out into the country together.”
“Well that should justify my skipping a day's work to the board.”
“Don’t be deceived, my sweet, you’ll be working hard enough - although I think I would have tried to take you along anyway - but I’ll be very involved in the panel discussions as well as my own presentation, so I really do need you to take notes for me.”
“Sure,” she smiled back, before frowning. “But . . . the conference is scheduled for a full day, and it’s at least a four hour drive. I just can’t be away from home any longer than usual. You know that.”
He paused, savouring the moment. “I certainly do. That’s why I’ve been talking to Justin today. If you don’t mind an early start driving David around to the Muxlow’s, he is able to juggle his shifts to drop him off and collect him from the day centre, and Jenny will be at home in the afternoon too.”
“Are you sure they don’t mind?” she asked, her eyes sparkling with cautious excitement.
“Justin said they’d be very pleased to have David. What about your Dad? You don’t need to be home for him, do you?”
Claire shook her head, “Not this once. He won’t be happy about it, but I can leave him something to heat for his dinner.”
“Good, because I have plans for our dinner too. The property where my parents live is about halfway between here and Tamworth, and it would be a great chance to stop there for tea and introduce you to them.”
He gauged her reaction by her cautious smile - so far so good - and pressed on; “In fact, Justin suggested that David stay overnight, then we don’t have to worry about the time we get back. I was thinking we could stay the night with my parents, and then make our leisurely way back on Saturday.”
The smile froze on Claire’s face and from the panic in her eyes he knew her answer even before she spoke.
“Oh no, I couldn’t leave David overnight - it wouldn’t matter if we were late - but I’d have to be back Friday night.”
“How come? Justin and Jenny would be with him - he couldn’t be in better hands than with two doctors.”
“It’s not that, of course he’d be fine with them, but nights are sometimes pretty hard for David. He is often in a lot of pain, and I might go to him several times.”
“Then isn’t it time you had a break? Let someone else take a turn.”
“No.” Her answer was definite, “No - it wouldn’t be right. Jenny’s exhausted as it is this late in her pregnancy, and Justin is on call to the hospital over the weekend, they can’t afford to be up and down all night.”
“But you can? Every night for how many years?”
“Of course I can,” she was beginning to become defensive. “Besides, David mightn’t want to call someone else even if he needed them - I’ll have to be home Friday night. That’s okay, isn’t it?”
“Of course it is.” he replied quickly, knowing that if he pushed too far she might pull out of the whole trip, “We should be able to be back at Muxlow’s around eleven.”
“Thank you, Cameron. It will be lovely to meet your parents - I hope they like me, though.”
“Of course they will, I’m looking forward to showing you off. But you’d better go, I’m keeping you past five again!”
Though never glad to see her go, Cameron was relieved not to pursue the topic of his parents. Neither of them had been at all impressed to discover that the girl he was head over heels in love with was his own receptionist.
Their frosty reaction had been disappointing, so he’d been careful to say little more to them about the relationship, deciding instead to introduce Claire to them as soon as possible. He had no doubt that her beautiful nature would win them over as quickly as it did everyone else, and a lot more effectively than with his own words.
© R Brown 2005