"Chapter 26"

"Pelican Point"

© R. L. Brown 2005

Chapter 26

When Chris and Lynette found Cameron in the reception area shortly after Claire had left, it was with an unbearable sense of guilt that he explained to them what had happened to Claire’s father. They didn’t have to say anything for him to know how disappointed they were in him and it made him feel worse to realise that they were only aware of the least part of his cruelty to Claire.

Leaving the building without even returning to his office, Cameron headed straight for the privacy of his cabin, made wretched by the accusations of his own conscience. He was no longer able to minimise the extent of his ungodly behaviour since Friday, not only in the destructive words he’d lashed Claire with but in the way he’d abused his power over her to make her suffer.

It appalled him to admit how that cruel motive had led him on Friday night to drive recklessly because he knew was terrifying her and then to force her to remain at work against her will that very evening. Nothing she could have done would have justified that kind of revenge - and he knew he was answerable not only to her, but to God for his sinfulness.

Never since his conversion had he seen so keenly the horror of his sin, and he felt the power of the Holy Spirit convicting him for deliberately turning away from God over the weekend.

Not only had he refused to seek God in repentance, he had cut himself off from all the means of grace by which God would have restored him. As well refusing to be answerable to his Christian brother Justin, by ignoring his calls, he had determined not to be amongst God’s people on the Lord’s Day, instead doing everything in his power to distract his mind from spiritual things.

A groan escaped from him as he considered the mockery his actions had made of his public testimony of Christ, appalled to think of the rotten witness he’d been in the eyes of not only Claire, but David and the Muxlows, his parents and now his staff and patients at Pelican Point.

He, who had known for years the depth of Christ’s love, who had been forgiven so much and been blessed so richly - had treated his Saviour with such unfaithfulness. For the first time he saw clearly how little he deserved God’s mercy, that he had no right to even seek cleansing from the sin he had so wilfully pursued.

Even at his conversion Cameron had never considered himself in that honest light. He’d seen his commitment to Christ as a gift he was offering to Him, that by handing over his life and all his gifts and abilities to God he was making a valuable contribution to His service.

Now he realised that far from doing God any favours by being willing to “accept” Him, what he’d done by asking God to accept him was to ask God to accept a sinner whose life and conduct would actually bring discredit on God’s holy name.

Never in his Christian life had he sunk this low before, but now he could see that every day he fell so far short of deserving God’s salvation and that he had never truly appreciated the extent of God’s grace which had saved him nonetheless.

He cried out to God in heartfelt prayer, begging for forgiveness and restoration and valuing the promise of salvation as he had never done before in his life, understanding for the first time the meaning of the old hymn words, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”

The hope which he had in Christ was fully dependent on his Saviour’s perfect and completed work, and not on his own pathetic and inconsistent efforts.

For the first time in days, Cameron was able to sleep well, shaken but secure in the knowledge of God’s promised forgiveness. When he woke it was with the conviction that he must put things right with Claire.

Although with her attitude to his injury he could never consider a romantic relationship with her again, he knew he must restore their relationship as a Christian brother and sister. Not only did he have to accept with grace the offence and hurt she had caused him, he needed to beg her forgiveness for his sinful actions towards her.

Sure that she would be fully involved with her father for some days yet, Cameron decided to phone her and offer to drive her into the hospital when he returned to his cabin after breakfast. When there was no answer he realised she must have gone in to see her Dad already and he carried on with his normal routine, hoping to catch her at home later and suggest meeting up for lunch to talk through things.

However, when he made his way back to the main building through a sprinkling of gentle rain just before nine, he was surprised to see her seated at her desk and working as normal.

“I didn’t expect you to come in,” he told her as he approached the front of her desk.

“Why not?” Her eyes flicked up towards him for only a moment, as she continued slitting open a pile of envelopes, “I’m not sick.”

“But with your father in hospital . . . why don’t you take some time off - I’m sure it must be hard for you at the moment.”

“Not at all - in fact I’m at loose ends with only one person dependent on me at the moment. Wouldn’t know what to do with myself at home while David is at the Centre, and someone else is looking after Dad in hospital.”

She was coldly returning his own accusations of her and although he knew he deserved it, the hardness in her tone shocked him. She was as beautifully groomed as the day before and seemed entirely unaffected and emotionless, yet he’d witnessed her unguarded reaction when she’d taken David’s call yesterday - she’d been so distressed by it she’d nearly fainted.

“Please, don’t be like this with me Claire. I’m truly sorry for what I said.”

She didn’t look up, intent on her work. Cameron stared at her, thrown off by her remoteness and wondering what to say next when the front doors opened and Tyrone came into the foyer.


Cameron caught his eyes and looked at him meaningfully, clearly warning him away, but Tyrone just nodded and continued past him behind the counter and stopped right beside Claire.

“How’s your Dad?” he asked her, reaching out his hand and touching her arm gently.

She turned toward him, shaking her head, “Still hasn’t regained consciousness - Justin’s going to go in and have a look at his brain scans this morning and let me know how things look.” Her voice was quiet and wistful as she spoke to Tyrone.

“I’ve been praying for him,” Cameron offered, and Claire looked up as though she’d forgotten he was there, nodded briefly and returned her attention to Tyrone.

“Did you want to continue with those forms you were automating yesterday?”

Tyrone agreed and she bent down to retrieve a disk from her drawer and handed it to him and set about helping him open the saved file on her computer. Cameron watched them feeling as though he were separated from them by solid plate glass.

“If there’s anything I can do to help you, Claire . . . ” he said, surprised by how desperately he was wishing for some way through to her.

She didn’t even look up as she replied, “I told you I’d let you know if I need your help.”

He stared at her helplessly, with Tyrone watching him he could hardly launch into the whole thing again. After a few moments more he sighed, and wheeled himself to the lift.

Ten minutes later he was surprised to see Claire at his door with his mail in her hand, but she began speaking before he had a chance to say anything.

“I assume with the rain we’ll be having indoor sports again - and I wondered if you might be able to manage without me,” she began, obviously in a strictly business mode, “Justin just rang - a specialist will be in to see Dad at around one-thirty this afternoon - and I wondered if it would be alright if I took my lunch hour then instead of at twelve?”

“Of course. But don’t worry about working through lunch or anything, just take as much time as you need. It doesn’t even matter if you can’t make it back this afternoon,” he replied quickly. He was hopeful he might get a chance to move the discussion to a more personal level, but her next words disabused him of that hope.

“Thank you, but I assure you I’ll be back by the afternoon conference - I’m very aware that this Centre is not run around my convenience.”

She turned on her heel and left him staring after her helplessly. Was there nothing he could do to smooth things out between them?

He picked up the phone and dialled Justin’s number - if Claire had just spoken to him he might be able to catch him and finally return his calls. He was willing to admit to Justin how badly he’d treated Claire, if only his friend could give him some idea of how to go about restoring the damage. But even this strategy failed him - Justin hadn’t rung Claire from his office - and his secretary didn’t know when he would be returning from his hospital visits.

The sound of a group of people exiting the lift and heading towards the gym made Claire look up at the clock. Right on one o’clock and time to get going, she thought, returning the files she was working on to her tray and draining the last of her coffee.
She had just stood up when she heard Cameron’s voice as he, Chris and Rod came in her direction.

“When I didn’t see you upstairs for lunch, I thought you must have left already,” he said, frowning with concern. “Why didn’t you come up?”

Claire swallowed hard. Yesterday, Cameron angry had been hard to deal with, but today Cameron being conciliating was more than she could bear. The sound of his voice tugged at her heart and she didn't dare to look into those dark blue eyes which once had regarded her with such softness.

The terrible dread which had gripped her in the lift at the hospital the previous evening still held her in its iron grasp and she felt she was only clinging to a semblance of normality by her fingernails. Keeping her distance emotionally from everyone, but especially Cameron, was the only way she knew how to survive without falling apart entirely.

“I had too much work to get through, Cameron, you agreed last week that this would be a good time to get the past patients files indexed on the computer.”

“Yes . . . but only because we thought it might be a bit quieter until the end of this program - don’t worry about it now, it doesn’t really have to be done.”

Can he tell that I am barely managing? Is he watching my work to see if I am failing to cope with it? she wondered, desperate that she mustn’t let him have anything to complain about in her work.

“I said I would do it and I am perfectly capable of getting it done,” she replied curtly, her voice tense with the effort of keeping it under control. “And if you’ll excuse me, I’d better be going now.”

She turned away, relieved that Cameron’s attention had been taken by Rod, who was asking him a question about the gym session. She bent down to retrieve her handbag, moving carefully to lessen the sharp pain in her back that accompanied every movement and nearly jumped with surprise when she heard Chris’s voice close behind her.

“What have you done to your back?”

“What are you talking about?” She tried to make her voice casual, relieved to see that Cameron was too involved with answering Rod to have overheard.

“Can’t fool me, girlie, I’m a professional!” he teased, and before she realised what he was doing she felt his fingers press against the precise site of her pain and she gasped involuntarily.

“Gee, I’m good - found it first go, didn’t I? How did you do it?”

“Just moving the lounge last night, it caught on something - but it’s not that bad, Chris, just a strain.”

“At least you’re not doing sport this arvo, are you? How are you managing with lifting David?”

Getting David up and dressed that morning had been sheer agony. Her back was even sorer than the night before and the lack of decent sleep had left her with almost no reserves to deal with the pain.

“Fine. It’s not really that bad,” she reiterated firmly. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m just on my way out.”

“Yeah, all the best with your Dad. Why don’t you see me when you get back, and I’ll work on your back for you?”

All though it was well-meaning, she found the pressure of Chris’s attention nearly crushing and had to blink back the tears which were starting.

“It’s really okay, just let it go, Chris,” she begged, feeling panicky as she glanced across at Cameron again. “Please don’t say anything.”

Chris followed her gaze to where Cameron was still talking to Rod and nodded, his eyes softening with understanding.

“Sure, just let me know if I can help.”

Claire was glad to make her escape to the van and in a few minutes had turned onto the high speed by-pass which led towards the hospital. She drew in her breath sharply as she twisted to look over her shoulder for traffic before changing lanes, the van’s blind spots forcing her to stretch her back awkwardly.

She had just reached the posted speed when she realised that she couldn’t seem to get her breathing back to normal and that her heart had begun racing again. Please God, no! she prayed, terrified by the thought of another episode occurring while she was driving. What if I can’t control the car, what if I kill someone?

Within moments she was shaking all over and looking desperately for a chance to pull off the road. When the traffic allowed and she had come to a stop on the wide shoulder she burst into tears. How will I ever look after Dad and David if I can’t drive? How am I going to keep my job if I can’t make this stop happening?

Her fears increased as it became even harder to breath, her whole body tingling and numb as her heart pounded mercilessly. It seemed impossible to her that she could live through this, but gradually the fear and pain began to ease.

What a fool I am! she told herself bitterly, I’ve never died from it in the past, so I never will - why can’t I just make it not happen? Although she wished she could just curl up in a ball and let the world go by, Claire knew she had to get driving again if she would get to the hospital in time to see the specialist. She couldn’t let her father down.

Gritting her teeth, she twisted her head round to check the traffic and got back on the road. Surely this would all pass again, if God was letting her go through it surely He would give her the strength to cope. She would just have to be careful and make sure no-one found out, if only she could avoid being with people or doing the things that made it happen . . .

She looked at her watch, if she left the hospital early enough she’d take the long way home and not have to cope with all these fast lane changes on the bypass. If she was going to cope, she would have to make sure she’d be fully in control when she returned for the afternoon meeting with Cameron.

Claire gave her reflection a self-conscious glance before climbing out of the van and heading back into work. She had brushed her hair and carefully reapplied her make-up when she’d arrived at the hospital and had been reassured that no-one seemed to have the slightest suspicion that she wasn’t as calm and competent as she appeared.

She glanced at her watch, relieved that even with taking the long way home she was still running early for the afternoon meeting. She sighed, looking forward to a cup of coffee and a few quiet moments before having to face anyone again in Cameron’s office.

Entering the foyer, she stiffened as she saw Cameron waiting at the lift. Unfortunately he had heard her behind him and met her eyes with a warm smile then turned to follow her towards her desk.

“How is your father? Did you speak to the specialist?”

“Thank you, yes I did,” she answered, putting her handbag away. “I appreciate you letting me go during sport.”

“Has there been any improvement?” he persisted.

“No change as yet.” She paused while she pulled out the patients files ready for the meeting. The interview with the specialist had been quite an ordeal and she was thankful that Justin had prepared her for the worst by telling her the results of the brain scans that morning. “We’ll just have to keep praying and wait and see.”

“Here, let me take those.” Cameron reached out for the files she had stacked on the counter and placed them on his lap. “Are you coming up to my office now?”

Claire hesitated, “I might meet you up there, I was going to go and have a coffee first if that’s okay. You go ahead - I’ve got my cup down here somewhere.”

“That’s okay, I’ll wait,” he replied patiently, “Your cup is up there on the filing cabinet.”

Claire managed to smile back and devoid of any other delaying tactics followed him helplessly towards the lift. Don’t be a fool about it, she told herself as she forced herself to wait calmly, it’s only one floor in the lift, I’m not alone and I simply cannot let myself get upset about it.

“I’m feeling a bit peckish myself,” Cameron said when the doors closed after them, “I might have something to eat while you have a cuppa. Did you have any lunch?”

She felt the pressure of his direct question right as the disconcerting sense of movement washed over her as the lift rose swiftly. Her mouth felt dry as she answered, “No . . . I didn’t have time, but I wasn’t really hungry anyway.”

“Oh, Claire! I never wanted you to work instead of having lunch - have something now.”

She took a deep breath, relieved to escape into the upstairs corridor and avoid arguing the point. Already she was aware of feeling shaky again and was filled with dread that it all might start again while she was here at work.

She began making her coffee while Cameron rummaged in the fridge, emerging triumphant with the remains of a rich, chocolate mud cake that Lynette had brought in for morning tea. He cut it into two generous slices and handed Claire a plate, offering her his own fruit and yoghurt if she wanted to make her meal a little more healthy.

“No, this will be just right, thank you,” she answered, taking the plate from him and picking up her cup. “If you’ll excuse me I’ll take it into your office and get myself organised on the computer while I have it.”

Without waiting for his reply she went quickly through the corridor to his office, desperate for a few moments to gather herself together. It was just too hard being alone like that with him, his companionable presence bringing into sharp focus everything she still felt for him . . . and everything she had lost.

The cake was too rich for her to manage more than half but its sweetness gave her an immediate boost and she still felt warm all through from her quickly downed coffee when Cameron joined her a few minutes later. She had nearly finished setting up the computer but she deliberately slowed her work down, frightened of being alone with him with nothing to occupy herself.

He came up beside her, placing his water bottle on the table and her heart began to pound with the fear of what he might say to her. Her eyes flew to the clock on the computer screen in front of her, telling herself that Lynette or Chris would join them at any moment.

Cameron was speaking to her, but she was not aware of what he was saying - his voice was so far away and her mind was filled with an incredible dread of losing control of herself here in front of him. Then he would know how incapable she really was. She stared at her screen, willing her heart to slow down and fighting to keep her breathing even.

“Claire, are you okay?” His concerned tone cut into her thoughts, “You don’t look well.”

She looked at him desperately, his words offering her an escape.

“No - I feel a little unwell,” she said, getting quickly to her feet, “If you’ll excuse me . . . for a moment.”

She fled his office, seeking the refuge of the ladies toilets and collapsing onto the plastic chair in the corner and dropping her head onto her lap as she was completely overcome. I’ll lose my job, she thought desperatelyas she fought to catch her breath, if I can’t stop this happening what will I do?

Time seemed to stop for her and she was unaware that Lynette had entered the room until she heard her saying gently, “Cameron said you weren’t feeling well, sweetie . . . ”

A moment later she felt her arm around her shoulders and heard Lynette’s calm but authoritative command to concentrate on taking deep, slow breaths.

“I’m okay, Lyn,” she gasped, “Nothing’s wrong . . . it was just the lift . . . it’s stupid of me. . . I just get freaked out . . . by lifts sometimes.”

“Don’t try to talk, darling, just concentrate on your breathing.” Lynette’s voice was like a life-line and Claire felt herself regaining her perspective as her body began to return to normal. After only a few minutes she raised her head and smiled shakily at Lynette.

“I’m sorry, I’m really fine.” Claire was determined to carry on as normal, despite how she was feeling, “I just felt unwell for a few minutes - but I’m okay now.”

“It’s okay, darling, it’s a pretty hard time for you,” Lynette patted her arm. “Things not so good at the hospital?”

Claire got up quickly, unable to bear her sympathy without breaking down and turned on the tap hard, washing her face briskly before the hot tears had a chance to escape. She felt intensely embarrassed that Lynette had seen her like this, though glad that at least she’d had the sense to get herself away from Cameron when she did.

It’s over now anyway, and there’s no reason I can’t just carry on, she thought with grim determination, I will make myself manage to do what I have to. She scrubbed her face dry with a paper towel and then headed for the door.

“I’m sorry,” she said again, “I’m holding everyone up - better get a move on.”

“Why don’t you just go home? Cam will understand, and I can take notes for you.”

“No, I’m fine, thanks.” Claire went out through the door without looking back and returned to Cameron’s office without giving herself a chance to change her mind.

© R Brown 2005