Claire’s eyelids finally fluttered open and she looked up into Cameron’s eyes, her eyes weaving as she tried to focus on his face.
“Don’t look so worried . . . I’ll be alright in a moment,” she whispered, smiling weakly before her eyes slowly closed again.
Cameron breathed a sigh of relief, his face relaxing for the first time in several hours. He pressed the buzzer beside her bed and then reached out and gently stroked the hair back from her forehead. She opened her eyes again and this time her eyes held his steadily as he spoke softly.
“How are you feeling?”
She frowned, then said as though it surprised her, “I’ve got the most incredible headache.”
“It’s no wonder - you’ve given yourself quite a knock on the head.”
Her hand rose towards the dressing on the side of her head, but Cameron caught it gently saying, “No, don’t touch - it will be quite sore for a while - you’ve had to have a few stitches in your scalp. Do you know what’s happened to you?”
“No . . . ” The look of dreamy unconcern began to fade from her expression.
“You had an accident playing basketball this afternoon. Your chair was knocked over and your head hit someone’s footplate and you were knocked unconscious. Do you remember any of that?”
“Vaguely . . . only the start of the game,” she began, stopping when a nurse entered the room and began speaking to her while checking her temperature, pulse and blood pressure. Claire answered her questions coherently if distractedly and turned back to Cameron as soon as she was gone.
“How long was I unconscious?”
“Long enough to scare the life out of me, Claire, I think I’ve aged ten years today.” He smiled ruefully, “You didn’t come to until you’d been in Emergency for quite some time. And then they sedated you pretty much straight away because they were in the middle of doing the scans to see whether you’d fractured your skull - which, by God’s grace, you haven’t.”
“What time is it?” she asked, her eyes suddenly sharp.
He checked his watch, “Nearly seven.”
Before Cameron could realise what was happening Claire had leapt from the bed in sudden agitation.
“I have to go - I can’t be here! David will be alone at home, Cameron, I’ve got to go!” She tried to move away from the bed, only to discover the drip in her right hand was tethering her to it.
“David’s okay, Claire, he’s not alone - ” he began, horrified to see her trying to wrench the drip out of her hand. He grabbed both her wrists, using all his strength to keep her from tearing the canula from back of her hand.
“Listen to me, Claire! I’ve organised nurses to be with him around the clock - apart from being concerned about you, David is fine - there is nothing for you to worry about.”
“You don’t understand, I can’t stay here!” she was struggling frantically against his firm grip, “I haven’t even checked about Dad since lunchtime . . . he might be awake and think we don’t care about him!”
“No, Claire, he’s not awake - ”
“He hasn’t died?” she demanded, a look of sheer terror on her face.
“He’s just the same, nothing has changed since lunch,” he reassured her. “Justin checked in on him on his way home and let me know. Everything is okay.”
“No, it’s not okay, let me go!” she insisted, still trying to pull away, “I need to go to him, I have to be with him.”
“No, Claire - he doesn’t need you right now,” he answered firmly, feeling terribly concerned by her reaction. Claire’s bed was in a private ward, the furthest along the corridor from the nurse's station and he didn’t dare release her hands to reach for the buzzer.
“His doctor came down here a couple of hours ago and spoke to me about what was going on. He said you understood what to expect now, Claire . . . there’s nothing you can do for your Dad, but you do need to look after yourself right now.”
“I know what the doctor said, but Dad has to wake up!” she insisted. “You don’t understand Cameron, he doesn’t know God - he hates Him as much as he hates us! He can’t die now without regaining consciousness!”
She dropped her face to her hands and began to cry. “I need more time . . . ”
The fight had gone out of her and she slumped back against the bed, sobbing. Cameron relaxed his grip, but kept hold of her. He’d seen the same look of terror which had been in her eyes yesterday afternoon and was aware that she was already struggling with her breathing.
“Sweetheart, it’s all in God’s hands - it’s okay for you to rest now - He won’t allow anything to happen with your father that’s not in His plan.”
“I know, I know . . . but this can’t . . . be His plan . . . it can’t be!”
“Don’t think about it just now, Claire, just breathe. Just think about breathing.”
“I can’t, Cam! I can’t get my breath!” she sobbed, “It’s happening again! . . . It hurts so much . . . I can’t bear it! . . . I’m so frightened . . .”
Cameron’s own heart was knocking against his ribs as let go of one hand and pressed the nurse’s buzzer.
“I’m here with you, you’ll be okay. It will be over soon - we’ll just ride it through together,” he said with more assurance than he felt, gathering her into his arms and drawing her down onto his lap.
He was shocked to feel how much weight she’d lost so quickly - David had said she wasn’t eating but now that he could feel her bones through the thin hospital gown he realised he’d meant it literally.
Cameron remembered the softness of her body against his when he’d held her close that first time in his office, finding it hard to believe it had been less than a fortnight ago. Oh Lord, what have I done to her? he groaned inwardly.
“If Dad dies now . . . it will be all wasted . . . everything that happened . . . to Mum and David,” she tried to explain her distress, “I promised her I’d keep caring for Dad . . . so he’d be won over . . . but he didn’t . . . if it’s too late now . . . all wasted.”
“Oh, Claire!” he sighed deeply, holding her tight as he finally understood her dogged commitment to her father and why his imminent death was so hard for her to bear.
I should have been there for her, helped her through this, he thought bitterly, instead I made it so much worse.
“I’m so sorry, sweetheart, so sorry,” was all he could manage to whisper, tears burning his own eyes as she clung to him.
“I’ve let everyone down . . . I promised Mum, but I couldn’t look after Dad . . . now I’m not even there for David,” she continued wretchedly, “and now you and Pelican Point - this accident is all my fault . . . ”
“No! You haven’t let anyone down Claire, you have done an incredible job looking after your father and David, no-one could have done better - your mother could only be proud of you.” Cameron told her fiercely, holding her tightly. “And what happened today was not your fault at all - it was just an unfortunate accident. You’re not to blame for any of it.”
“You don’t know . . . I’d hurt my back and Chris told me . . . not to play today . . . he wanted to tell you . . . but I wouldn’t let him . . .”
Cameron screwed his eyes shut. The cup of his remorse had truly overflowed when a distraught Chris had confessed he’d known Claire had hurt her back two days earlier but she’d been too frightened to admit it to him.
“Yes, Chris told me all about it when we were waiting for the ambulance, but I saw it happen - it was the other wheelchair hitting yours that knocked you down - it was not your fault at all.”
She shook her head, her tears continuing to flow unchecked down her face and Cameron wondered if any of his words were getting through the thick fog of despair which seemed to envelop her.
Her face hidden against his shoulder, Claire seemed unaware of the arrival of the nurse and later a doctor and Cameron cradled her protectively in his arms, gently stroking her hair until her sobbing finally began to subside. He felt the tension slowly leaving her body and when she began to straighten up he and the nurse helped her back into bed.
Claire lay exhausted and silent while the nurse connected an array of monitors to her, and when she finally left Cameron prayed with Claire, holding her hand and quietly reading aloud from the Psalms until she finally dropped into sleep.
He closed the Bible and leant over and gently kissed her cheek, thankful for the privilege of being there for her through the evening, but under no illusions regarding the uncertainly of their relationship. She’d reached out to him and accepted his help, but he was well aware that she had been frightened and alone and too overwhelmed by shock and fear to have any clear perception of what was happening.
In the morning things would be much clearer to her - and even taking into account the steady erosion of her confidence over the last several days - he expected that by the time he saw her next she’d have regained some amount of control and be determinedly clinging to her independence again.
Cameron glanced at his watch and sighed, reluctant to leave her side but aware of how much he had to organise before the following morning. There was no guarantee that she would even talk to him then, but he had already begun forming a plan of how he could help her.
He could only hope and pray that he’d be able to pull it off before she had a chance to raise her defences against him again.
Finally free of all the monitors and cords which had plagued her throughout the night, Claire curled herself into a ball and lay on her side staring out of the window to the treetops beyond. She felt utterly alone and miserable as she waited for the doctor to come to see her and, she hoped, send her home - and wondered despondently why it seemed that God wasn’t keeping His promise never to send His children more difficulties than He gave them strength to bear . . .
There was a light tap on the door and Claire quickly wiped the tears from her face and turned over, fully expecting to see the doctor and unpleasantly surprised to see Cameron entering the room.
She’d woken with the humiliating memories of everything that had happened the previous evening and she despised herself for the way she’d fallen apart in front of him. She quickly struggled to sit up in the bed, pulling the sheets quickly over herself and hating the thought of how she must look to him.
“How was your night?” he asked cheerfully, and Claire found she could hardly bear to meet his eyes, remembering how she had clung to him like a child and cried, pouring out all her inadequacies to him. For someone to whom strength and independence was so important, whatever must he think of her now he knew what she was really like - weak, pathetic and helpless?
After last night there’s no point trying to pretend any more . . . now he knows exactly what I’m like there is no chance he’d ever fall in love with me again.
“It was awful - every time I finally got back to sleep a nurse was waking me up and asking me stupid questions.”
“They had to do that because of your concussion - they needed to wake you every two or three hours to check you were still conscious and responding normally.” He smiled, picking the chart off the rail at the end of her bed and flicking through it thoughtfully.
“Why bother asking how my night was if you’re going to read about it for yourself?” she asked in annoyance, cringing at the thought of him seeing what had been written about her response to the panic attack which had startled her out of a deep sleep in the early hours and had set all the monitors buzzing with alarms.
“I don’t know what it is that makes you think that because you happen to be doctors you can make yourselves free with my chart without even asking - Justin did exactly the same thing when he walked in this morning.”
“Oh, you knew Justin’s been in?” he looked up from the chart with an amused twinkle in his eyes, “He told me you were asleep.”
Claire shut her eyes for a long moment, not even bothering to answer and thinking that if only she’d not turned over when Cameron had come in she could have shut her eyes and maybe he would have just gone away too.
“How is your head anyway?”
“Awful. The pain killers they gave me made me be sick so I’m not taking them - but you’d know that already from reading my chart,” she replied sarcastically and then sighed.
“I’m sure I’d feel a whole lot better with a cup of coffee too, I always have one first thing, but no-one will bring me one. Would you do that for me, please? I don’t care what it tastes like as long as it’s strong.”
Cameron shook his head. “Sorry, I can’t. They’ve put you on nil caffeine - see it’s written up there.”
Claire turned and saw what he was pointing to on the whiteboard above the bed.
“Why have they done that?”
“Because the caffeine will only make your panic attacks worse . . . the withdrawal from caffeine is probably the cause of half your misery this morning, but that will ease.”
Remembering his comments in the past about what he termed her caffeine addiction she demanded, “And did you have anything to do with this?”
He nodded slowly, “I suggested it because I honestly think it is what’s best for you.”
“And they did it because you think it’s best! Is that normal - that my doctor takes advice on what my employer thinks is best for me?”
Cameron looked a little uncomfortable, “No, not because I’m your employer . . . it would be because I nominated myself as your next-of-kin when I filled in your admission form while you were unconscious.”
“How dare you! David is my next of kin, and as for you and me . . . ” she paused after her initial explosion and then continued awkwardly, “I’m not even so much as your girlfriend.”
“But you were until I was such an arrogant fool and wrecked everything,” he answered quietly. “I know David is your next of kin, but he can’t be here for you and I haven’t arranged anything without talking it through with him first.”
She looked at him suspiciously. “What else have you arranged?”
“Well, for one thing - your doctor is prepared to release you into my care today - ”
“What? Why is the doctor making arrangements with you when he hasn’t even been in to see me to tell me I can go home?”
“He came in while you were sleeping this morning and he’ll come back and arrange for you to be discharged if you are willing to come home with me.”
“No, I am not willing - I just want to go back home to my place.”
“You’ve had a head injury Claire, you can’t be alone for the time being.”
“I only had a concussion and I won’t be alone - David will be with me!”
“A concussion is a head injury - and if you are going to recover properly you need to rest. You can’t look after David at the moment.”
Claire’s eyes were stinging with tears and she found his uncompromising assumption of control over the situation threatening. Although she felt too weak to fight against him she had no other option.
“Who is going to stop me?” she countered, with more bravado than she felt. “The hospital can advise all they like, but they can’t actually make me do anything. I want to be back home and I want to be with David.”
“I know that’s what you want, but have you thought about it from David’s point of view? Think of the pressure you’ll be putting him under when he knows that you should be resting,” he pointed out gently. “Is he going to feel okay about waking you through the night if he needs help, or knowing it could be complicating your recovery for you to be looking after his physical care?
"David’s been terribly worried about you - even before the accident happened - and what he wants most of all is for you to have the rest you need. I think he could do with a break too, to be able to ask for the help he needs without always having to weigh it up against the cost to you.”
Claire stared at him, appalled and then burst into tears.
“I had never thought of it like that . . . that he mightn’t tell me what he needed. I tried my best not to let him worry - I did my best!” She drew her knees up to her chest and pressed her face against them, trying to stop crying.
“Oh, Sweetheart, I didn’t mean to upset you!” Cameron came closer and rested his hand on the back of her head, “I know you did your best, so does David. You just need some help.”
“But God says He will give us the strength to do what He calls us to - what have I done wrong? Why can’t I manage?”
“Because you are trying to do it all on your own - you need to trust in God, not in yourself. God will give you everything you need - but you are not failing when that has to come through other people too.
"What I’ve organised with David is for him to room in with Tyrone at Pelican Point. There’s three weeks left of Tyrone’s program and he’s very keen to help out with David - he can be with him all the time - and it is no trouble to roster an extra nurse to be on call for all his personal care.
"David is very keen to do some work for me too - our website needs rebuilding and there are a lot of other things that the guy who does our computer work simply doesn’t have time to get to.
"It would be a really good opportunity for Tyrone to work alongside David doing all that too - he’s showing a real aptitude for computers that our staff just don’t have the capacity to develop as fully as I’d like them too.”
Claire wiped her eyes across her shoulder and raised her head to look at him, annoyed that she’d let herself cry in front of him again. It hurt dreadfully to realise that Cameron was right in pointing out that she was useless to David at the moment, but she couldn’t fail to recognise the merits of the solution he was offering.
“Thank you, Cameron - are you sure that is okay?” she asked, battling to command her voice.
“Perfectly, it’s an arrangement that will benefit Pelican Point - apart from the computer work - I’ve been so impressed by what I’ve learned from David during the past few days that I’d like all our current guys to have the chance to meet him.”
Claire took a deep breath. Since Cameron already knew about the mess she’d got her life in, she may as well be completely honest about the rest of her problems too.
“Before I even think about anything else, I’ve got to sort out about Dad. I know what you said about him last night and that I have to accept that it mightn’t be God’s will for him to recover . . . but in either case they can’t keep him here indefinitely and I’ve got to arrange some kind of ongoing care for him, for however long it is needed.
Because he’s got to go on a waiting list for a high dependency bed in a nursing home he could be placed anywhere in the state, and then I couldn’t see him at all. I wondered if I tried ringing around locally I might find out if there are any other options, but the nurses won’t bring me a phonebook or anything.”
Cameron squeezed her hand, “No, you don’t have to worry about that. I made some calls this morning and they can take him at White Sands and that’s only 10 minutes from your place.”
Claire shook her head, “No - that’s no good - it’s a private hospital, and I can’t pay for that. I didn’t really pick up what was happening last night - but it’s a mistake for me to be here in a private room - maybe there was some mix up when you filled in the forms because David has private insurance but I haven’t. I’m worried that they might be billing me as a private patient and not a public one. That’s why I’ve got to leave this morning, in case they charge me for another day.”
“You’re being treated as a private patient because your medical costs are all covered by Pelican Point’s insurer since it was a workplace accident. Fortunately I took your advice and looked into that when you first started,” he answered with a warm grin. “And as for your father’s costs, I will look after them myself. It is all arranged for him to be transferred to White Sands as soon as his doctor gives the okay.”
Claire was horrified, “No, you can’t do that Cameron! Even if Dad doesn’t recover he might need care for quite some time. I can’t accept that from you.”
“You don’t have to accept anything - David and I have made the arrangements - and he’s not too proud to accept my help. Come on, Claire - you’ve seen the way my family lives - the cost is nothing to me and it is something I want to do, whether you agree with it or not.
"David’s been in contact with a solicitor this morning about making arrangements for him to obtain guardianship over your father and he should be able to take care of most of your father’s affairs over the internet. He’s the eldest and he’s going to take over the responsibilities for the decisions regarding your father - it’s something he wants to do - and he’ll be close at hand to your father while he’s staying at Pelican Point. Of course he’ll work together with you like you’ve always done - but not until you are completely well again.”
She stared at Cameron in silence, at a total loss for words as she felt tears gathering in her eyes yet again.
“Now we just have to sort you out,” he continued lightly, just as though he hadn’t noticed anything, “I won’t make you come with me if you don’t want to, but unless you can think of something David and I can’t, the only other alternative I can think of for you is at a private hospital somewhere and I think you would be pretty miserable on your own somewhere like that.
"Although Justin and Jenny would love to have you, they know what you’re like - and they realise that with the two girls and Jenny nearly due there is no way you would rest if you stayed with them.
"You mightn’t realise yet, but this concussion is not something you’ll get over in a couple of days. You will need quite a bit of support with the effects of your injury for at least two or three weeks, and if everything’s fine after that you should be right to return home on your own and I might let you try coming back to work a week or so after that.”
He laid out his plans matter-of-factly. “You need help just now, and I am in a position to give it to you. I have been speaking with a friend of mine who practices up near my parent’s property who can help you learn to cope with the panic attacks - and you know our place - there is plenty of room and lots of peace and quiet. My parents will be back and forward from Sydney but with Bevan and Anne both living in there is always someone else home, so there’s no worry about how it looks for you to be staying with me.”
Cameron hesitated, suddenly looking less assured. “I can’t begin to describe how bad I feel about how I’ve treated you, and even though I don’t deserve it I’m going to ask you to forgive me anyway. My whole attitude to this disability that God has given me was totally wrong, and although I resented you pointing that out to me, I realise now that you were right and that I’ve got a lot to learn about accepting it and accepting the help of people who care for me too.
"I know I have no right to help you, but after what I’ve done to you I desperately want the chance to care for you until you are well. I can understand you not wanting to be with me, and I know I’ve wrongly put pressure on you in the past - but I promise you that while you are staying in my parent’s home I’ll treat you purely as a Christian sister - all I’m asking for is your forgiveness and your friendship.”
The tears that were welling in her eyes spilled down her cheeks as Claire regarded him miserably, realising he was offering to do this because he felt sorry for her. Now he knew what a hopeless case she was he felt compelled to help her. She longed for his friendship . . . and his love . . . more than almost anything in the world - but not his pity, and she struggled to find a way around his suggestion.
“I know you’re sorry, but that’s all forgiven and you don’t have to do this to make up for anything. How could you even leave Pelican Point to look after me?”
“Quite easily. In fact it is all arranged for me to take a month’s leave whether you come with me or not. I haven’t gotten around to taking holidays for years - until now there just hasn’t been anything I wanted to do more than working - but I’ve had no trouble finding someone to replace me for these next few weeks.
"It’s the best time to arrange it with the current program being nearly over - and if I have to run down to Pelican Point occasionally to sort anything out, that’s okay. I can keep an eye on David and your father for you that way too.”
“But what about your parents? Surely they can’t want me to stay . . . I’m so ashamed of how I behaved in front of them . . . they must hate me.”
“It was obvious even before I explained everything to them that I was giving you a very rough time that night - they’re not going to hold you to blame for something that was my fault. In fact, Dad is very keen to see you again - he’s most impressed with any young lady that can hold her own against the Alexander clan.”
Claire shook her head, “But nothing I could do would impress your mother.”
He smiled. “That’s probably true - but I wouldn’t be wanting to spend much time with the kind of person who does. She won’t be home that much anyway, and I promise I won’t let her bite.”
Claire bit her lip, half of her longing to take the opportunity just to be near Cameron - but the other half telling herself she was a fool to continue to cherish any kind of hopes for a future with him. It was mad to put herself in line for what could only be more pain and disappointment . . . but what other option did she have right now? She tried futilely to think of some other way.
“If you’ve run out of objections I’ll take it that you’re coming with me,” he said briskly, pulling away from her bedside before she could even marshal her thoughts, “I’ve still got quite a lot of things to arrange before we leave . . . just call me on my mobile to come and get you when your doctor is ready to let you go.”
Claire realised she was being steamrolled into his plans, but couldn’t think quickly enough to oppose him. Besides, she felt so lacking in confidence to manage her own life that it was very tempting to just give in and take Cameron up on his offer to sort everything out for her.
“But Cameron,” she made one final attempt to object, “how can I leave here? I haven’t even got any clothes.”
He smiled smugly. “You’re not underestimating me again, are you? I’ve got a couple of cases packed with your clothes and other things downstairs in the car, and when I go down I’ll send up your overnight bag so you can get dressed when you’re ready.”
His presumption that she’d meekly accept this invasion of her privacy seemed to reactivate her fighting spirit.
“Cameron! How dare you take it upon yourself to go through my clothes and personal things?” she demanded hotly, her feeling of helplessness temporarily forgotten.
“Aw, Claire - you know you’d do exactly the same thing for me in the circumstances,” he grinned, clearly enjoying her indignation. “You go through David’s drawers and get his clothes organised everyday without thinking twice about it.”
“But that’s completely different . . . ” she began to blush, thinking of Cameron going through her more personal items of clothing. “He’s my brother and surely even you must admit it’s a totally different thing for a girl to do it than a man!”
“Yes, I certainly do. That’s why I got David’s nurse to do your packing and just check with him what you normally wear,” he conceded cheekily, the way he had so many times in the past. “I just wanted to check if I could still get a rise out of you, Ginger - make sure the damage wasn’t too bad!”
“Oh, go away! I’m sure I’m not well enough for this!” she flung back in mock annoyance as he retreated from the room, “I bet the doctor wouldn’t have agreed my going if he’d had any idea this is how you planned to treat me!”
© R Brown 2005