Cameron looked up into a clear blue sky as he left his cabin the following morning, briefly noting the improvement in the weather. After the confinement by the rain, it would be a relief for the patients to get outdoors and to resume their normal sports program in the afternoon.
He spared no more thoughts for his patients once he was on his way to the main building, completely preoccupied with seeing Claire. He’d skipped the gym that morning and looked forward to catching her alone before any other staff or patients would begin coming in.
If only he could explain how sorry he was, that he now saw how wrong he’d been and how he deeply regretted everything . . . Claire might be able to forgive him and trust him enough to let him help her.
He’d prayed for hours after talking to David the night before and while Justin had been clearly disappointed in him when Cameron when confessed what he’d done, his support and advice had been like a life-line over the phone late that evening.
Entering the reception area, Cameron frowned to see Tyrone already sitting beside Claire at her desk, nearly three quarters of an hour before he expected him. He approached slowly, looking carefully at Claire in the light of David’s revelations.
Her head was bent over her work and at first glance she appeared as convincingly together as she had the previous two mornings and he wondered if perhaps David had over-dramatised. Cameron said good morning to them both as he came up beside the desk and while Tyrone cheerfully returned his greeting, Claire only murmured her reply without looking up.
“I’m glad to see you’re up to coming in this morning, Claire,” he began. “Did David tell you I rang last night?”
“Yes, thank you - that was very kind of you - but I’m quite fine.” She still had not looked towards him, and he began to realise that what he’d previously interpreted as cold indifference in her posture was more like a suppressed tension which held every muscle taut.
Tyrone seemed to have moved closer to Claire and Cameron found himself feeling annoyed with him, his impression of him being like Claire’s lap dog returning to his mind.
“Can you spare me a few minutes Claire, and come up to my office with me?” he asked, strangely awkward in Tyrone’s presence.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t just now. A courier is coming to collect these reports shortly and I still need to get them copied and collated.” Her voice was brittle, and he realised that yesterday he’d probably been wrong to take that as a sign of hostility, “Can you just talk to me here while we get this done?”
“It’s . . . not about work. I really need to speak to you in private.” He looked across at Tyrone, “Do you think you could leave us for a few minutes, Tyrone?”
He had no expectation of being refused and was stunned when Tyrone met his eyes squarely and replied, “No. Sorry Doc, but I don’t think Claire wants to be alone with you.”
Cameron stared at him speechlessly. Tyrone’s tone had been mild enough, but there was a strength and determination in his eyes which caught him completely by surprise. He knew instinctively that nothing would move Tyrone short of physical force, and suddenly realised his continued presence beside her had not been as a devoted puppy, but more like a guard dog watching over her.
Tyrone turned back to Claire and following his gaze, Cameron finally saw what the youth had been aware of all along. Claire’s hands were shaking as she tried to remove a staple from the report in front of her, biting down on her trembling lower lip. He felt as though a sword had pierced his heart when Tyrone reached out covered her hand with his own, and said gently: “It’s okay Claire, I won’t go.”
She was blinking hard and as Cameron realised she was trying not to cry he felt his heart would break with his shame.
“Oh Claire! I am so, so sorry. I have treated you dreadfully and I know now I was so wrong, so wrong about everything.”
He was so desperate to make things right that he no longer even cared about Tyrone’s presence, but Tyrone turned to him, shaking his head slowly and mouthing quietly, “Just go.”
Cameron nodded, realising that Tyrone was right and it wouldn’t help Claire to force her to listen to him at the moment. Engulfed in indescribable misery, he returned alone to his office.
A short while later his phone signalled an internal call, and seeing Claire’s extension number he grabbed it eagerly.
“I have Dr Winterbourne on the phone for you.” Her voice was nearly as efficient as usual.
“Claire - ”
“I’ll just put him through,” she continued as though he hadn’t spoken. Cameron looked at the phone helplessly, he had forgotten all about the doctor's planned call to discuss the conference and answered reluctantly.
“How are you feeling? Are you over the flu?”
“Pretty much, young Cameron, pretty much. A couple of days at home gave me even more time to ponder over this problem of yours anyway. You mightn’t like what I’ve got to say but I’m thinking these protocols of yours just don’t capture the essential difference in the program at Pelican Point.”
He went on to explain in detail how after considering the inferior results from other centres following the protocol, he was beginning to think that Cameron’s own personal experience of spinal cord injury had a major impact on the results of the patients in his care.
“More psychology than science, I’m afraid,” the older doctor apologised, “I’m sure you’ve never considered that aspect before, so you probably think it’s a wild idea.”
Cameron sighed. “No, I don’t think it’s a wild idea at all. Claire said exactly the same thing to me on our way home from the conference. It’s just taken me some time to accept it.”
“That secretary of yours that you introduced me to?” he asked doubtfully, “I wouldn’t have thought she’d have the perception. I’m afraid I didn’t take a very good impression of her on Friday. Probably overstepped the mark, but I had a bit of a stern word with her just before you left.”
“What . . . what about?”
“Frankly I couldn’t believe what a useless lump she was, Cameron, there were a dozen times she could have stepped in and given you a hand with things yet she seemed totally oblivious to your difficulties. I told her to wake up to herself.”
Cameron’s mouth went dry and he shut his eyes hard, as if he could block out the dreadful picture that his mentor had presented him. No wonder Claire was so upset on the way back to his parents’ and had made that scene at the service station. Not only had he rejected her help, he’d exposed her to the kind of humiliation and censure which he knew she took to heart at the best of times.
“Claire was - was certainly not oblivious to what was happening,” Cameron said with great difficulty, “She was acting under my specific instructions.” He paused, sighing deeply, “There’s a lot more involved, she’s not just my secretary . . .things have been fairly serious between us on a more personal level.”
“No! You know, my Amanda was saying on the way home that she thought the girl was head over heels for you but I wouldn’t have a bar of it! Not with the way you were together. Could have cut the air with a knife,” he expostulated. “So what’s going on, young Cameron?”
Never one to contain his emotions and with the incident downstairs still foremost in his mind, Cameron found himself explaining brokenly, “I thought it was all a mistake and I pushed Claire away. . . I hurt her badly. But I was wrong . . . . about so many things . . . and everything is such a mess now.”
“No! Surely you can sort things out, my boy?”
“No, I don’t think I can,” he said hoarsely, “I just keep making it worse.”
“Just looks that way, I’m sure. Take the advice of an older man, when it starts to feel like everything you touch goes wrong it’s time to take a break. You’ve been working all hours for months on those protocols and you really took a beating on Friday - you just need to put everything aside for a little while. You’ll get a fresh perspective on the protocol project, and probably things won’t look so grim with your girl either,” he said bracingly.
“In all these years we’ve worked together, I can’t remember that you’ve taken any leave at all, save that week each Christmas. How are you placed to take some now? You’re nearly finished with the current batch, aren’t you? Should all be over bar the shouting.”
“Yes . . . I suppose it is. I might look into it.”
“You do that - have any trouble getting someone to take over for you and I’ll send one of my own registrars, righto?”
Cameron thanked him and hung up, wearily rubbing his eyes with the balls of his hands. Maybe Dr Winterbourne was right and that he should take a break from work - but how could he leave Pelican Point while things with Claire were in such a bad way?
There was a light knock and the door opened behind him and he turned to see Lynette enter the room.
“I see you didn’t talk Claire out of coming in,” she said, sitting down at the table in the seat nearest him.
“I didn’t talk to her last night - she was at the hospital. I spoke to David,” he answered, briefly explaining why he’d decided not to speak to her about the panic attack.
Lynette frowned at him when he finished speaking, “You look pretty rotten yourself, Cam.”
“I feel rotten. You were right Lynette, it is all my fault what is happening to Claire - I just can’t believe that I couldn’t see it before. The whole break-up was a huge mistake, I was so wrong. It was just my stupid pride.” He shook his head sadly, “I’d give anything to have a second chance and have Friday all over again.”
“Have you told Claire that, sweetie?”
He shook his head, despairingly. “I tried - but she won’t talk to me. I’m frightened if I push at all I’ll only make things worse. I don’t know what to do.”
He looked round, hearing Claire’s footsteps in the corridor. She seemed to hesitate, then seeing Lynette at the door briefly said hello to both of them before handing Cameron his mail and turning to leave.
“Thanks Claire,” Cameron began, “did everything go okay with those reports for the courier you were finishing?”
She stopped and turned towards him, taking a shuddering breath.
“Yes, thanks . . .” she faltered and he was dismayed to see her eyes were filling with tears, “Excuse me - I’ve got to go.”
Cameron looked at Lynette in desperation as Claire hastily disappeared.
“See what I’ve done? How can I help her if she’s upset just being near me?” He ran his hands through his hair, “Dr Winterbourne suggested I take some holidays while things are quiet here . . . but I didn’t want to leave Claire. But maybe . . . maybe that’s what she needs. Do you think if I’m not here it might take the pressure off and let her get back on her feet?”
“It might - she’s been pretty badly hurt by what happened - and now with her father being so ill it might not be a good time to start trying to sort everything out between you,” Lynette replied. “And since it doesn’t seem as though Claire’s willing to take any leave, if you do it might give her a chance to get her confidence back. If she won’t talk to you, you could try writing and explaining everything and let her work through it on her own while she doesn’t have to deal with facing you here.”
He nodded. “I’ll make a few phone calls and see who’s available - I can’t think straight to do my job anyway. Maybe seeing Claire away from work would be better anyway.”
“You do that,” Lynette agreed, standing up and patting him warmly on the shoulder on her way out. “It will all be okay, sweetie - I’m sure she still loves you. Just give her time.”
But you don’t know the full extent of what I've done, he thought miserably, alone once more, and time alone is not going to fix that.
“Oi! You’re not planning on playing basketball, are you?” Chris’s voice booming unexpectedly behind her made Claire jump and send the basketballs in her arms rolling across the storeroom floor.
“You scared the life out of me, Chris!” she complained weakly, leaning back against the cupboard.
He grinned, gathering up the balls in his huge arms. “Sorry kiddo, thought you’d heard me coming. But surely you’re not going to play sport with your back the way it is?”
Claire took a deep breath. Her back was even sorer than the day before - as pulled muscles so often are on the second day - but it just didn’t seem right to not do her job because of a silly injury that was all her own fault.
She was worried that Cameron would already be disgruntled by her refusing to talk to him alone that morning, and then she had very nearly burst into tears when she’d taken his mail in to him upstairs. Maybe he hadn’t noticed, but what would he think of her if she now said she couldn’t manage to do sport, especially after skipping it the day before as well?
“I’ll be fine, Chris - it’s really not that bad - just a bit of stiffness that some exercise will soon put right.”
He frowned, “I don’t know - you’d be better off not risking it. At least mention it to Cameron.”
“No, you don’t understand!” She shook her head urgently, the feeling of pressure making her lose her composure, “Things are difficult enough as it is. And if he thinks I can’t do my job . . . ”
Chris transferred the balls to one arm and put his other hand on her shoulder, squeezing it gently.
“Whatever has happened between you two personally, Cameron is certainly not going to treat you unfairly in regards to your job. Why don’t I talk to him about it?”
“No! You’re making a big fuss over nothing, Chris! I just want everyone to leave me alone and let me just do my work!” she jerked away from his hand and tried to push past him to the door, but he didn’t budge.
“Claire, I’m only trying to help.”
She looked up at him and said in a small voice, “I know. I’m sorry, Chris. But just leave me to work things out on my own, okay?”
“Sure. But I’ll be keeping my eye on you, if I don’t think you are managing I’m sending you straight off,” he replied with mock sternness, handing her one of the balls and letting her past.
“I’ll be fine,” she repeated, walking with him towards the courts.
“You went and saw your Dad at lunchtime, didn’t you?” Chris asked a few moments later, “How is he today?”
“They’ve moved him out of Intensive Care since he’s not needing any kind of life support. Though since he’s still unconscious he has an intravenous drip and a feeding tube for the time being.”
“Sound like he’s heading in the right direction, then. Do they know when he’s likely to regain consciousness?”
She shook her head, “No, but we’ll just keep praying. I hope it won’t be long.”
He’s got to regain consciousness, Lord, she again begged silently, please don’t let him go yet. He can’t die now.
Her thoughts were still very much occupied with her father and for once she wasn’t even aware of Cameron’s eyes on her as he joined them on the court a few minutes later and began organising the game. Taking her assigned position from him with a brief nod, she climbed into a chair, gritting her teeth hard as the movement sent pain shooting through her side. She knew Chris was watching and she was determined not to attract his attention.
She’d made it through the day so far, now it was just a matter of getting through the rest of the afternoon hour by hour. Without even letting herself think of the coming ordeal of the daily conference, or how she dreaded driving home, she made herself focus on the task at hand, silently repeating to herself the instructions Cameron and Chris had given her for assisting with the game.
Who to throw the ball to, where to aim for each particular player, skills to model - once Cameron had assessed her ability he’d quickly absorbed her into his team alongside Chris and the other therapists during sports - merely winning was no longer her chief aim and she was more determined than ever not to let down his confidence in her.
After the first few minutes she was breathing hard, but no-one would have guessed that the sweat on her forehead was from anything other than normal exertion. Although she couldn’t keep up with the pace as well as usual, when a fast throw sent the ball flying in her direction she didn’t hesitate to stretch high to reach it.
As the force made her arch backwards an agonising pain ripped through her left side and she swung instinctively in the opposite direction to relieve it, another wheelchair hitting hers before she had a chance to correct her balance. Flung sideways from her chair she heard the grating of metal and dazzling light exploded in front of her eyes, her head impacting against something hard before she slumped onto the concrete.
Numb from the blow Claire rolled onto her back, aware of a sudden eerie silence. Putting her hand instinctively to the side of her head, she frowned, her fingers feeling something moist and warm. She looked up into a sea of faces, noticing Cameron’s stricken expression with a strange detachment as she moved her hand in front of her eyes and saw it was covered in blood.
“Lucky you’re here, Cam . . . reminds me of the first day we met . . . arguing over the procedure manual . . . ” she murmured dreamily, intensely aware of the blueness of his eyes, “after a fall from a wheelchair . . . must be checked by the doctor . . .”
His face spun away and suddenly everything was black . . .
© R Brown 2005