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