The dark timber of the open French doors was glowing richly in the late afternoon light and slowly opening her eyes, Claire realised that she must have been dozing for a couple of hours or more.
Turning her head from where she lay curled up on the leather lounge she saw that Cameron was still working at the table, labelling photos and sorting them into albums.
After lunch he’d brought out an old box full of photos and other momentos to show her, but when she’d tried to smother a yawn after only a few minutes he suggested she lay down on the couch for a little while. She’d never intended falling asleep but she must have been more tired than she’d realised . . . and hadn’t even been aware of the soft blanket being placed over her as she slept.
That was just the kind of thoughtful thing Cameron had been doing for her the whole time she’d been staying at his family’s home, she mused, watching him silently as worked with his blonde head bent over the table, as intense on his present project as on everything else he did.
Claire had come to know him so well over the last three weeks, discovering a natural tenderness in him she’d never expected as he had gently but determinedly untangled so many of the difficulties in her life. She sighed, wondering how after being so spoilt she would ever manage to cope on her own again. She knew she would have to, for as wonderful an interlude this time together had been, Claire was fully convinced that everything he had done for her had been prompted only out of guilt and a sense of responsibility for her, and not by the remains of any kind of attraction to her.
She couldn’t be thankful enough for the gift of his friendship and for the hours they had spent talking and praying together both at his parent’s property and on their many meandering drives around the beautiful Hunter Valley - but she knew this friendship could only have come at the cost of any deeper relationship between them.
Never before had she had a friend with whom she could discuss so openly all the pain and fears she’d been bottling up for years - but after revealing so much of her hidden self to him she was sure he could never regard her in the same way as he once had. Although he was always warm and completely open towards her, there was a distance, a reserve on his side that had never been there before.
As though he were suddenly aware of her watching him, Cameron turned and smiled, “So Sleeping Beauty awakens?”
“I’m so sorry, Cameron. I’ve got no idea how I came to sleep so long,” she apologised, sitting up and beginning to fold up the blanket. “It’s like it's all I ever do at the moment. I don’t understand it - I’m sleeping better at night than I have all my life.”
“Just part and parcel of the head injury - don’t try to fight it - you’ll be less tired soon. Although the way you keep dropping off, I suspect you’re finally catching up on years of lost sleep. You will keep resting when you’re at home next week, won’t you?”
“Yes, doctor,” she repeated for the twentieth time and placed the folded blanket on the couch, determined to change the subject.
“How are you going with the photo’s?” she asked, walking over and pulling up a chair to the table close beside his wheelchair.
“Really well - just about all labelled and in order now, although I had to have a good think about some of the names and dates,” he replied, indicating the piles spread across the table. “After the accident I just bundled everything up and thought I’d never be able to bear looking at it all again - it’s nice to finally be able to enjoy the memories without the old bitterness.”
Claire looked at the piles of creased air show programs and yellowed clippings of aeroplane pictures and smiled, thinking about the incredible change in his attitude toward his accident and disability that had become apparent in the last few weeks. She wasn’t entirely sure what had brought it about and there were still many aspects he was struggling with, but there was no doubt about the new sense of peace he had within himself.
“Do you ever think about whether you could fly again?”
Cameron took a handful of nuts from a bowl in the centre of the table, cracking their shells with a silver nutcracker as he spoke, “No, I haven’t for a long time now,” he answered, dropping the shelled nuts into Claire’s palm. “I’m sure if I really wanted to I could find a way - it’s just that it’s not important to me any more. Although now I can look back and be glad I had that experience, there are so many other things that I’d rather do. Here, do you recognise this person?”
Claire took the photo he was holding out to her and smiled at the young man standing proudly beside a plane. “Gee, now I’m going have to do the maths to work out how old you were then,” she said, flipping it over and reading the date scrawled on the back, “Twenty-two?”
Cameron nodded and she looked back at the image of the boyish pilot. He was certainly strikingly handsome, yet there was something missing from the man she knew now. She looked up at Cameron’s face, recognising the strength and character that made him so much more attractive than the youth in the photo.
“It’s not fair,” she complained, shaking her head as she handed back the photo, “the way that woman age but men just improve as they get older.”
Cameron laughed, passing her another handful of nuts. She blushed, she had become so relaxed about speaking her mind to him that she’d gotten out of the habit of guarding her tongue, but it embarrassed her to think it might be obvious that she hadn’t been able to gracefully let go of what they once had.
She was about to pop the next handful of nuts into her mouth when she stopped and looked across at him.
“I know what you’re doing,” she accused, hoping he hadn’t noticed her earlier slip, “every time I’m near you, you’re plying me with food. Are you trying to fatten me up?”
“Uh-huh. And it’s working, you’re nearly back to the old Ginger. A couple more weeks would be good, but it’s near enough.” He paused, staring at her thoughtfully for a few moments before handing her a different photo of himself with another young man.
“This is Matt Hyland. He’s turned respectable too - he’s specialising in neurology now - but he’s still flying regularly. He’s become very involved with vintage aircraft. He owns a replica Sopwith Camel which he flies in displays and air shows.”
“Really? Just like in the Biggles books? That would be incredible to see for real - I know David would love to.” Claire looked at the photo with new interest, “Is your friend still local?”
“Yes, on weekends anyway. I ran into him down the street last week and had a long chat. He’s going to take David up flying with him in a couple of week's time.”
Claire stiffened, feeling all the warmth drain from her body.
“You’ve arranged this? Does David know?” she asked, moistening her suddenly dry lips with her tongue.
“Yes, I talked it over with Matt and he was keen so I passed on his number to David and they’ve arranged to go up on the first of next month, weather permitting. David’s thrilled at the chance.” His tone was light, but his eyes were grave and tender as he watched her closely.
Claire was finding it hard to swallow, let alone speak.
“But why, Cameron? Isn’t it enough for David just to see it? There are so many things that could go wrong with him up there - it’s a risk isn’t is?”
“Yes, a small risk,” Cameron admitted, slipping his arm around her shoulder, undoubtedly his concern prompting him to hold her for the first time since she’d been there, “but it’s one that David is prepared to take. He’s a grown man, Claire, and I know it’s only because you love him so much that you don’t like the idea, but it’s up to David. You don’t have to take the responsibility for what he decides - or necessarily agree with it. Even when he needs your support to put things into motion he still has the right to make his own choices.”
Claire drew in a shaky breath. It had been so hard being away from David the past few weeks, and even though she knew from his emails and Cameron’s reassurances after his visits to Pelican Point that he was fine, she found it difficult learning to trust others to take care of him.
“I know he’d love it . . . and it will probably be okay . . . it’s just the thought of what could happen,” she replied eventually. She felt like crying, but Cameron’s arm around her seemed to strengthen her and she tried to sound positive, “But knowing David, he’ll have considered all that.”
Cameron nodded, “He has, but it isn’t really that big a risk. Even so, David’s not afraid of dying, Claire, he’s more concerned about never having a chance to have lived.”
Claire closed her eyes quickly against the sharp emotional pain, knowing Cameron was right in that she had to stop holding on so tightly to her brother, but finding it so hard to accept. She felt Cameron’s other arm go around her waist, as though he knew how much she was struggling within herself. .
“I’m sorry - I didn’t realise I would be interrupting.”
Claire’s eyes flew open at the sound of Mrs Alexander’s icy voice in the doorway. Despite knowing that Cameron’s arms around her was nothing more than the innocent action of a concerned friend, she felt herself blushing under his mother’s accusing stare.
“That’s okay - I won’t hold it against you,” Cameron returned lightly, and Claire was surprised that rather than releasing her from his arms or explaining the situation to his mother, he actually tightened his hold, drawing her in closer against him.
Obviously he had no intention of either apologising or correcting his mother’s wrong assumption. Claire had to bite her lip to keep from smiling - it had been almost worthwhile enduring Mrs Alexander’s continual barbed comments to have witnessed Cameron’s subtle but determined championship of her cause. He was always perfectly polite, but in a battle of wills Cameron consistently came off best against his mother.
“After all, I could have shut the door,” he continued smoothly.
The older woman’s mouth tightened but she didn’t meet Cameron’s challenge, merely announcing that she was on her way out to a function and didn’t know whether she would be seeing Claire again before she left for home.
“Probably not,” Cameron replied, perfectly relaxed, “I hadn’t asked Claire yet, but I was planning to take her out to dinner back near Pelican Point, so we will be leaving fairly soon if that’s okay with her.”
Claire looked up at him and nodded, thrilled at the thought of one last meal alone with Cameron before it was all over. Even when his parents weren’t home, Bevan and Anne were always nearby and although she and Cameron certainly had nothing to feel awkward about, the suspicion that all her movements and perhaps conversations were being relayed back to Mrs Alexander left her feeling somewhat uneasy.
She turned to Mrs Alexander, the knowledge of Cameron’s support enabling her to thank her genuinely for her kindness and hospitality.
“Don’t thank me, dear,” she laughed, in a way that could have been disclaiming modestly, but probably wasn’t, “it’s all been Cameron’s doing to make you feel at home. I hope you have a pleasant evening.”
Claire let out a slow breath as soon as Mrs Alexander had gracefully left the room. Cameron dropped his arms and leant back in his wheelchair, grinning.
“See, it wasn’t so bad staying here after all - I told you I wouldn’t let Mum bite you.” He glanced at his watch, “We probably should start getting ready to leave soon, if you’re up to it.”
“Sure - I’m mostly packed already, though I’ll go and get changed if we’re eating out,” Claire replied, looking down at her jeans. “Where are we going?”
“Just back to the local steak house you took me to before,” he answered, suddenly looking uncomfortable. “I have actually arranged to meet some friends there. I should have checked with you earlier, but it was only confirmed this afternoon while you were asleep. I hope that’s okay with you?”
“Sure, of course that’s okay.” Claire forced herself to sound cheerful as her heart dropped heavily. Cameron clearly didn’t want to be alone with her for their last evening - she must have made the way she still felt about him too obvious - and he was going to ensure there was no misunderstanding about the nature of their “date”.
Somehow she managed to smile as she excused herself and walked slowly upstairs to her room, knowing that she would just have to learn how to accept the reality of the way things were between them now.
Cameron glanced across at Claire as he turned his car into the restaurant car park. Neither of them had talked much during the drive, but he wasn’t sure whether it was because Claire was unusually reserved, or whether it was his own preoccupation that had damped their conversation.
It been a relief that she hadn’t asked him any more questions about their evening, but he couldn’t shake himself of the conviction that the whole thing was a very bad idea. He’d read the anxiety in her face the moment he’d told her that they would be meeting up with friends and he had very nearly decided to call the whole thing off then and there.
He’d taken Claire out to small restaurants and cafes a number times while she’d been staying with him and although she had been very reluctant to go anywhere in public at first, after several visits with his psychologist friend she was overcoming her fear of the anxiety attacks and learning strategies for coping with the sensations of panic when they came.
It had been wonderful seeing her gradually regaining her confidence - but he was worried that the pressure of the evening could still prove too much for her. He sighed - he’d allowed his concerns to be overruled by people who’d known her far longer than he had and it was too late to change the plans now.
If only it hadn’t been tonight, he thought despondently, easing the car into a park near the door. The past few weeks had been a real answer to his prayers, and he was so very grateful for their time together and the precious gift of Claire’s friendship and the trust she’d placed in him. But will it be strong enough to accept this?
Claire was already around his side of the car, lifting out the wheelchair for him. He was still adjusting to accepting her help, but somehow having been given the privilege of helping her through her own difficulties had made it so much easier for him to cope with it.
She assembled the chair deftly, making it look effortless, and although he could concede that it was hardly sensible for him to work so hard to do something which was simple for her, he would much rather she was still taking it easy for the time being. But, as Claire had pointed out, she would be taking care of David again from tomorrow so she may as well ease herself back into things now.
After flicking on the wheelchair’s brakes Claire straightened up, and ran a hand nervously over her hair. Once the stitches had been removed from her scalp she’d had her hair cut into short layers to camouflage the cropped area and although Claire wasn’t used to it yet, the effect was very attractive.
“You look lovely,” Cameron reassured her as he slid across into the wheelchair. “The new style really suits you. See, Mum’s not all bad - you have to admit it was very good of her to arrange for you to visit her stylist.”
Claire laughed, “I think she was only worried about her reputation in case someone she knew saw you and I together.”
Cameron smiled, wanting to tell her about all the compliments his acquaintances and church friends had given him after they’d met her, but not sure whether he would only make her more self-conscious.
As they entered the restaurant, Cameron was relieved that they were the first of his group to arrive and he ushered her into the bar area while they waited for their table to become available. He bought them both drinks, and although he’d agreed not to say anything to her, when Claire asked him who they were meeting he decided to take the opportunity to begin preparing her for what was coming.
“I’m really here for a friend’s sake - it’s kind of a blind date - he’s meeting someone whom he has only corresponded with over the internet and I offered to come along for moral support,” he began carefully but the rest of what he was planning to say was lost when Claire suddenly straightened and placed her drink on the bar.
“Look, it’s David and Justin! I wonder if they’ve seen us?” She called out to them and waved, and a moment later the two men were making their way over to them. Claire was thrilled to see them, kissing David and shaking Justin’s hand warmly.
Cameron exchanged greetings with them, once again thankful that he’d been able to repair the damage he’d caused between Claire and the Muxlow’s. Justin and Jenny had driven up with their girls last Saturday and spent the day with them on his parent’s property and Claire had spoken with Jenny on the phone a few times since. Right now she was teasing Justin for leaving Jenny alone at home when it was so close to their baby’s due date.
Justin grinned and patted the mobile phone in his pocket in reply and David told Claire how wonderful she was looking. She brushed aside his praise and began asking how he was and then pulled up abruptly in mid-sentence.
“You’re talking! I heard the computer voice, but it didn’t sink in at first that you’re not at the computer - ” she said in bewilderment.
“I’m using the same system,” David explained, the computer generated voice clear despite the words coming in slightly disjointed spurts, “we’ve rigged it up with a lap-top underneath my chair.”
“But how ? You’re not typing - and I can hear your voice too.”
“It’s a speech recognition program, I’ve got a little mike clipped onto my collar that picks up my voice and translates for me.”
Claire crouched down to see it, her face transfigured by amazement, “Of course! What a fantastic idea! I’m just kicking myself that it never occurred to me!”
Cameron put his hand on her shoulder, “Tyrone came up with the idea and I had a surplus lap-top so we thought it was worth trying. The two of them have been working late every night setting it up so David could surprise you with it once it was working properly.”
“Yes, it hasn’t been all that easy getting it to recognise my speech since I can’t always produce the same tones. Ty has programmed in about a dozen variations of each word - but we’ve had some amusing translations.”
The unaccustomed effort of speaking for such a length of time was clearly straining him, and Claire stood back up saying that she imagined that while he was away from the keyboard he would still appreciate more leading questions that he could answer simply.
“You got it,” he replied, meeting her smile.
Cameron glanced toward the open main door, recognising the woman entering from the photo which David had shown him. Claire had been too distracted by David’s new set-up to even ask what he and Justin were doing there and Cameron realised his chance to explain was now gone.
“That’s Maxine now,” he said quietly, and both Justin and David turned to look towards the door. Justin raised his arm and caught her eye, beckoning her over and Claire turned quickly to Cameron, frowning in consternation.
“You mean David and Justin are the friends we were meeting?”
“Yes,” he replied, feeling sick with dread as saw the shock flash across her face as she obviously assimilated the information he had told about the friend with a blind date, “I’m so sorry I couldn’t explain before - ”
She turned away from him, her face deadly white and her whole body stiff as she watched the woman approaching. Maxine looked to be in her late thirties, and wore her dark hair cut short in a no-nonsense straight bob, her solid build emphasised by a tailored black suit. Her face was angular with a very strong jaw line, and behind narrow rectangular glasses her sharp eyes were taking in the assembled group, although her somewhat forbidding countenance softened as she met David’s eyes.
“So we finally meet, Dave,” she drawled in a strong American accent as she joined the group, “and from what you’ve told me I can certainly recognise these folk too.”
“Yes, I’m sure you can,” David replied. “Max, I’d like you to meet my sister Claire, and my friends Justin and Cameron. They've heard a lot about you, too.”
Cameron and Justin both reached forward to meet her hearty handshake, but Claire stood staring mutely at her for some moments before extending her own hand belatedly.
“I’m sorry, Max . . . I’m just surprised,” she apologised weakly, and Cameron wished he could put his arm around her in support, but she had moved too far away for him to reach her.
“David has certainly told me all about you, but your name - Max - and you being a physicist . . . it’s stupidly old fashioned . . . but I just assumed you were male.”
“Well, you’re certainly not the first,” the other woman replied in her strident tones, “My name’s Maxine but I tend to use Max professionally - shouldn’t happen these days but a lot of people still make the assumption in my area of academics that my position should be filled by a male. There are certainly times using Max works to my advantage.”
Claire nodded, her face still strained and then withdrew into silence. Cameron watched her in concern, ensuring when a waiter led them to their table a few moments later that she was seated beside him.
As the others were being seated and organising their drink orders, he briefly explained to her about Max’s appointment to the city'sUniversity and her desire to continue her friendship with David in person. Claire merely nodded, and Cameron wished he could have talked the whole thing through with her . . . but there was no opportunity now, and David had been adamant that he not tell her beforehand.
David was well aware of how much Claire would worry over the wisdom of Max moving to be near him, but was convinced that her fears would be minimised once she had met his friend in person. He had argued that keeping her in the dark would make it clear that Claire wasn’t carrying any responsibility for his choice and also that she would lose a great deal of the benefit from her time away if she’d had it on her mind.
Cameron could agree with his point of view to some extent, but he wondered if David really had any idea just how hard it was for her to step back to merely a supporting role after a lifetime of taking almost sole responsibility for him.
The waiter had returned to their table and was taking orders, but when he came to Claire she stared at him blankly and Cameron realised she hadn’t even opened her menu. She began to falter in confusion and when Cameron quickly suggested a meal to her she agreed gratefully.
He was sure Max could not help but notice Claire’s awkwardness and was grateful that she so ably filled the gap by keeping the conversation flowing. It was obvious she knew David very well, and seemed able to follow his thoughts as easily as Claire usually did - putting them into words to save him the effort of answering with more than a few words of clarification.
Cameron felt a little guilty that instead of being there to support David his own thoughts were completely centred on Claire, but David and Justin were doing just fine without him. From the snatches he picked up from their interaction with Max, her sharp wit and dry sense of humour was obvious, and he didn’t wonder at the strong sense of connection which David had said existed between them.
Until the meals arrived Claire didn’t seem to have noticed that Justin had taken the seat at the head of the table beside David, and when she stood up offering to exchange places with him he declined lightly and fed David’s meal to him without any fuss.
Cameron could see Claire watching intently for Max’s reaction and he felt a tremendous relief to see Max showed no sign of surprise or embarrassment, but carried on with the conversation as though there were nothing unusual about sitting beside a grown man as he was being spoon fed. Max also won his admiration for how sensitively she seemed to read Claire’s reaction to the situation - still including her in the conversation but avoiding the kind of personal questions that Cameron knew would make her even more uncomfortable.
David was about half-way through his meal when he caught Cameron’s attention.
"I received a letter from the Pelican Point board today," he began, impervious to Cameron's attempts to frown him down, "They have arranged an interview with me for Monday week."
"An interview? Why? What is this about?" Claire asked sharply.
"Our Systems Admin contractor has been very impressed with David and feels that there is more than enough work to keep him employed on a permanent basis.” Cameron tried to reply casually, “I forwarded his submission on to the board, but I didn’t mention anything to you as I hadn’t had an official reply yet."
“It’s probably sitting on your desk at work, Cam,” Justin suggested. “From their letter to David it all sounds very positive, they seem happy with all the suggested arrangements too.”
Cameron nodded slowly, his heart in his mouth as he prayed silently that no-one would mention the proposed plans for him to remain living on site if he took the job. The last few weeks had given David ample opportunity to explore ways of reducing his dependence on Claire, and in initial discussions the board were very receptive to including his accommodation and personal care as part of a salary trade-off. Being on site, at least during the week would mean David would have the flexibility of spreading his working hours around physio sessions and taking advantage of his preferred late nights.
“Good thing I’ve come over then, Dave,” Max said, patting him decisively on the arm, “If you get the job you mightn’t have so much time to keep up with our computer correspondence! What’s your planned job description?”
Cameron glanced furtively at Claire as the others discussed the new job, wondering why David had brought it up tonight rather than wait until he was back home with her as they’d planned. Although she said little, Claire was listening intently, her uneaten meal forgotten. Cameron sighed, if he’d learnt one thing over the past few weeks it was to not bring up topics that were even remotely emotional if he wanted Claire to eat anything.
Noticing that apart from Claire the others had nearly all finished, he applied himself to his own meal. He’d just finished when Max excused herself to visit the Ladies' Room and Claire stood up immediately, saying she would join her.
He watched the two women head across the restaurant with serious misgivings, and while Justin and David were chatting over how easily Max seemed to adjust to speaking with David “off-line”, Cameron’s concern about how Claire was handling the situation only grew as the ladies absence stretched out interminably.
"What can possibly be taking them so long?" he demanded finally, when the women still hadn't returned after ten minutes, "This is not good!"
"I'd say Claire is interrogating the interloper," David remarked with his usual sangfroid, "Can't expect that to be a quick job."
Cameron glared at him, but Justin agreed with David.
“Claire hasn’t said much, but it’s obvious there’s a lot of questions in her mind,” he said, “she’s probably just taking the chance to work things through while we’re not listening in.”
Cameron shook his head, frowning heavily, “That’s what I’m afraid of!”
"Relax, Cam,” Justin said calmly, “They are both intelligent woman - they’re hardly going to be brawling in the toilets, are they? Claire’ll be okay without you watching over her for a few minutes."
“But couldn’t you see how upset she is? From the very start I thought it was a bad idea not to tell Claire what was going on beforehand. I wish I hadn’t brought her!”
“He’s become very possessive about my sister, hasn’t he?” David teased, making Justin laugh, “Was he this bad when you visited last weekend?”
“Not quite. After a couple of hours he even let us talk to her alone!”
Cameron tapped the butt of his knife against the table top, annoyed by their flippancy and frustrated at not being able to do anything to help Claire.
“It’s just too much too soon - I only told her about your joy flight this afternoon and that was bad enough - why you had to bring up the job on top of everything else I have no idea!”
“Have you ever realised that she’s going to find it very difficult to move forward with you until she realises that I won’t see it as a rejection?” David challenged him, “Or to believe that I really want to be as independent as I can for my own sake?”
Justin reached over and gave Cameron’s shoulder a rallying shove, “I know she wasn’t expecting all this tonight, but all Claire wants is the best for David - she’ll be okay with Max and the job - it will just take her a little time to adjust to it.”
“I know, I know.” Cameron leant back in his chair and ran his hands through his hair, sighing deeply and speaking more to himself, “I just wish it didn’t all have to come out tonight.”
Justin looked to him to explain his remark, and Cameron began awkwardly, “Just that it’s the last night before she goes home . . . I wanted it to be special - ”
“He’s going to propose,” David stated bluntly, and suddenly Cameron was sitting bolt upright his face flushing red.
“I had no idea - did Cam tell you that?” Justin asked, leaning forward with great interest.
“No - but it’s rather obvious from what he’s been saying, isn’t it?” David replied, “That, and the fact he’s been patting his jacket pocket all evening.”
Instinctively, Cameron’s hand flew to his side to check for the reassuring shape of the small box and then grinned reluctantly, “I had no idea I’d been doing that.”
“Why do you think I brought up about the job, Cameron? She’s hardly going give your proposal any consideration if she thinks that the job was an afterthought to get me out of your way. She’d never believe you had nothing to do with it.”
Cameron let out a slow breath, “I don’t know that she’s going to give my proposal consideration in any case. Just being with her these three weeks . . . and coming to know her so much more . . . I love her so much, David, but I know I just don’t deserve her. I’m sure you must think I’m presuming way too much even to ask her?”
“Honestly, I don’t think anyone is good enough to deserve my sister,” he replied candidly, “But she loves you and needs you - and after years of praying for the right man for her I thought from the start that you might be him. You have no idea what a blessing it is seeing you take such care of her - but I’ll be watching to make sure you keep it up!”
Cameron laughed nervously, “So you don’t mind?”
“Not at all, but I’ve got one condition,” David replied. “Don’t give up if she’s says no . . . even if this is what she wants it won’t be easy for her.”
“Why does it have to be tonight?” Justin asked him, “With everything else Claire now has to deal with, maybe it’s better to let things settle down first.”
Cameron gulped down the rest of his drink, the glass clinking as he set it on the table.
“I’m frightened it just won’t be the same after tonight . . . this time we’ve had together, it has been incredible. She’s been so open with me and learned to trust me, but I’m worried that once she’s home she’ll just retreat back into her independence again . . . and feel that she doesn’t need me any more,” he tried to explain. “I just hate the thought of taking her home tonight and not being with her every day any more . . . but maybe if she knew how much I -.”
Cameron but cut off quickly as he saw Claire and Max crossing the restaurant toward them, his heart sinking at the unhappiness on Claire’s face.
Claire’s heart was thudding as she followed Maxine through the corridor and past the framed prints of rodeos and cowboys, pausing awkwardly while the other woman pushed open the door to the restroom at the end of the passageway. She had no idea what she was going to say to her; she had just been aware that she couldn’t sit still a moment longer with all those questions she could never ask in front of David hammering inside her head.
It took her completely off guard when instead of heading to a cubicle, Maxine stopped at the long bar of sinks and hoisted herself up onto the laminex counter and settled back comfortably between the soap dispenser and the hand dryer.
“I don’t really think you have to use the bathroom any more than I do,” she challenged Claire bluntly, “but I guess you figured this was your only chance of sorting me out in private.”
Claire opened and closed her mouth twice before managing to stutter, “I’m - I’m sorry Max - this all has taken me completely by surprise - I don’t know what to think.”
“Yes, I know. Thought he was wrong myself, but Dave had his mind set on not telling you anything about our plans before you and I met.”
“Guess he thought you wouldn’t like the idea. Knew you’d worry in either case,” Max shrugged, “I can imagine my nose would be a bit out of joint getting something like this sprung on me if I were in your place. And you’re obviously wondering who the heck I am and what my intentions are towards your brother!”
Claire sagged back against the wall. David hadn’t told her about Max coming to meet him. He hadn’t even told her that Max was a woman. Apart from her fears about this woman’s motives that were swirling around in her mind, the knowledge that he hadn’t felt able to share this with her hurt terribly.
“I’m sorry . . . I guess I did want to know all that . . . but I realise now I haven’t got the slightest right to ask.”
“Nonsense! You’ve got every right in the world, that’s why I came in here to give you a fair chance,” Max replied bracingly. “You and Dave have been devoted to each other all your lives, it would be real odd if you didn’t view me with suspicion. I certainly would if I were you.”
Claire managed half a smile. “I’ve probably jumped to conclusions anyway. You came here for work?”
“Nah! The job was only an excuse really, I’ve been telling Dave for the last couple of years I was planning on coming - getting the lectureship just decided the
At least she is being open, Claire thought looking across to where Max sat on the bench and summoning up the courage to get to the bottom of it.
“I know you’ve bee corresponding for years . . . but what made you want to actually come?”
Max pursed her lips, “One of those things that’s hard to put into words, you know. I suppose I finally realised that I was spending most of my life thinking about Dave. Something would happen, or I’d hear something funny and the first thing I’d think was how I was going to describe it to Dave. Then I’d be checking my e-mail every five minutes to find out what he thought of what I’d told him.”
She fixed Claire with her hard, dark eyes, “I have a real big family, lots of friends, but Dave is the one person in the world who understands how I think, how I feel about things.” She stopped and laughed at herself, “Gee, sounds like a cliche, doesn’t it? But that’s why I came.”
“Did you know about his . . . ”
“His disability? Sure did - been talking about it with him for years. It’s not something that’s new to me, though - grew up with my cousin who’s in much the same position as Dave is - he used to stay with my folks for holidays two or three times a year, and he and I’ve done a couple of road trips together across America. I know what you’re thinking - I saw you watching me when we ate - but those things aren’t likely to make me any more uncomfortable than it does you.”
Claire held her breath and counted before slowly letting it out again; somehow finding out how prepared Max was made her feel even more threatened. This was no spur of the moment visit. Claire knew she was probably being rude and selfish to press for more, but she desperately wanted answers.
“I know you don’t have to explain anything to me . . . but I wonder . . . if you would tell me . . . what you’ve got in mind by being here?”
“I know I don’t have to, but I do want to explain everything to you - I know how much you love Dave, I can understand how you must be feeling.” Max gave her a quick smile then pursed her lips in concentration.
“Well, I’ve got an initial contract for twelve months, so at the very least Dave and I’ll have some time together before I return to the states when it is over. Chances are it’ll be extended indefinitely - but we’ll just see what the first year brings.” She frowned at Claire thoughtfully before continuing.
“I guess I just want to take this chance to share this time with Dave, actually experience things together instead of only writing to each other about them. See a movie or a concert and share our thoughts at the time, be in the same room when someone unintentionally says something funny, know what he thinks about what I’m saying just by looking at him. I’ve gotten to know him really well by writing, but it only goes so far.”
Claire nodded, “I know . . . I guess I’m just trying to figure out . . . how seriously you looking at things.”
Max shrugged, “The future’s in God’s hands - I don’t know the future any more than you do - I just know what’s important to me in the present. I’m not a particularly emotional person, Claire, I haven’t swept in here on some tide of false expectation that is likely to ebb away and leave me high and dry next week.
"But I really care for Dave, I like his values, the way he thinks - the fact that I can be myself with him and speak my mind without him feeling threatened the way most people are. I don’t know if anything further will ever develop with us, but I’ve been committed to him as a Christian friend for several years now and whatever happens that commitment’s not going to change. I just want to take the chance to enjoy that friendship, I haven’t got any plans one way or the other beyond that and Dave knows that too.”
“Thank you, Max, for explaining . . . I just wish I’d known - ”
Claire couldn’t continue, struggling with the swell of her emotions. It had been a shock to meet her like this, but after talking to her she knew it was not the nightmare it had first appeared, and that strangely everything Max said had made sense.
This self-possessed woman certainly didn’t appear to be someone who would intend to harm David in any way, and Claire knew she ought to be happy for this new development in her brother's life, but she felt terribly hurt that neither David nor Cameron had trusted her enough to let her know beforehand.
Obviously they thought she wouldn’t handle it well, that she would go off the deep end about him taking this risk - Claire closed her eyes in bitter regret as she realised they were perfectly right. And that was exactly how she had reacted to the plans for David’s joy flight this afternoon, despite everything Cameron had been gently trying to teach her for weeks about truly trusting God to take care of everything, instead of feeling she had to manage it all with her own two hands.
They were right, and she did have to change - but it hurt so much knowing that that was how they saw her. Especially Cameron, he might pity her for her weakness, but if he had such a low opinion of her surely he could never respect her again?
Her thoughts were so painful she felt as though they were spearing right through her, but she caught herself quickly, determined not to let herself be overwhelmed. She was learning to take control of her thoughts, her reactions . . .
Claire leaned over the basin and turned the tap on hard, splashing cold water over her face as she prayed briefly and blocked out all other thoughts until she brought her breathing back to normal.
“I’m sorry, Max, it’s not you,” she apologised, tearing a paper towel from the dispenser and patting her face dry, “I haven’t been well . . . things just get on top of me at the moment.”
“Yeah, I know, Dave told me what you’ve been going through,” Max replied matter-of-factly from her perch above her, “You’ve had a pretty rough time, especially with the concussion on top of it. But Dave says you’ve really picked up since staying with Cameron.”
“Yes, he’s been incredibly good to look after me and David like this. I was such a mess, especially the first week or two - I don’t know how he put up with me.”
“Nothing’s too much trouble when you love someone.”
Claire shook her head, “No, he did once, but it’s nothing like that any more. He just knew there was no-one else who could help.”
Max grinned, “I find that hard to swallow - he sure seems fond of you. What makes you think he doesn’t love you?”
Claire let out a slow breath. She didn’t discuss the way she felt about Cameron with anyone, let alone this virtual stranger . . . yet Max’s complete openness with her made it seem impossible not to explain.
“We’ve been together just about every day these last three weeks, and talked about some incredibly personal things but he hasn’t given even the slightest sign of anything beyond a kind of brotherly affection. I know he cares for me as a friend . . . but when he used to loved me it was so different,” she replied quietly, looking down at the sink.
“He used to talk about the future, about us . . . he used touch me or take my hand at the slightest opportunity. There’s been every chance for him to give some kind of sign if he still felt that way - it’s obvious that he just doesn’t.”
“Maybe you just need to give it more time?”
Claire shook her head, tears welling up again as she put it into words, “It’s completely different now - he never knew me before the way he does now. He couldn’t possibly feel the same.”
She caught herself again and dabbed her eyes with the paper towel she’d crushed into a ball in her hand. She looked at her face in the mirror, shaking her head at her reflection, saying, “I suppose we’d better go back - I’m ashamed to go out there looking like this - but what does it matter now anyway? He already knows the worst of me.”
Turning to Max she shrugged, “I’m sorry, Max - I haven’t been much of a welcome party - but I’m honestly very glad you’re here. I look forward to getting to know you when I’m a bit more myself.”
“It’s going to be good. And you wait, Claire, we’ll sort out your Cameron too,” she replied, sliding down off the bench, “But since we’re in here anyway, we might as well make use of the amenities before we go back out.”
Claire was careful not to meet anyone’s eyes as she took her seat a few minutes later, relieved at least that her plate had been cleared away. Cameron pushed her chair in behind her, and although she didn’t look in his direction she was aware of his tension.
She could have kissed Max when she broke the awkward silence with a cheery announcement that she hoped the guys had decided what they wanted for dessert because she was ready to order.
As Max began to discuss the selection with enthusiasm, Claire felt Cameron’s hand on her arm and stiffened as he leant towards her, feeling incredibly self-conscious.
“I thought we might leave the others to have dessert without us,” he suggested hesitantly, “and go somewhere a little quieter for supper before I take you home. Is that okay with you, or would you rather us stay?”
Her mind was whirring, trying to figure out why he was suggesting it. If he wanted time alone with her somewhere quieter, he must want to talk to her privately. Cameron looked anything but happy and she could only think that he must have realised that she was still clinging to her hopes for them and felt it necessary to ensure that she had no false expectations when they returned to working together again.
“That’s fine,” she agreed quietly, deciding that putting off the inevitable would only make it worse.
She barely listened while Cameron made their excuses and left their share of the bill in Justin’s care, and after a mechanical farewell to the others she followed Cameron out to the car.
Despite the weeks they’d just spent together, it felt strangely awkward sitting beside him in the darkness of the car. Cameron was more nervous then she’d ever seen him, and it only confirmed her worst fears of what he must have in mind to say to her. Their conversation was so stilted and forced that she was relieved when only a few minutes later he pulled up in front of the restaurant at one of the newest five star resorts on the Point.
Stepping out of the car into the cool night air, Claire gave herself a mental shake. She dreaded what was coming, but she felt incredibly sorry for Cameron too. Despite having ended their romantic relationship well beforehand, by inviting her to his family’s home and taking time off work to look after her, he would have laid himself open to the conjecture of his friends and family regarding the nature of his intentions towards her. The least she could do would be make it clear that she had not misinterpreted his kindness to her, nor had any further expectations of him.
By the time they had reached the main entrance of the complex Claire had herself firmly under control, determined to exude a brightness she was far from feeling. She prayed silently, trying to cheer herself up by thanking the Lord for the friendship and support Cameron had so generously given her over the past weeks.
A smartly uniformed doorman swung open the huge doors as they approached and as they entered Claire found herself staring in wonder at a magnificent water feature that was the centre piece of the vast foyer. The sparkling cascades which flowed down over a sculptured glass waterfall nearly two stories high literally took her breath away, and she stood still for several moments, taking in its unexpected beauty.
Cameron paused beside her and although she felt him watching her intently he said nothing to dispel the heavy silence that hung awkwardly between them.
If he has to break my heart, at least he’s doing it in style! Claire thought wryly as she broke her gaze from the fountain and walked with Cameron towards the restaurant’s entrance. Although she’d driven past the resort and its renowned restaurant countless times, it was somewhere she had never imagined even entering before and was reminded again of the vast gulf of difference between her world and his.
“Good evening, Dr Alexander, it’s a pleasure seeing you again,” the Maitre d’ greeted Cameron and smiled warmly at Claire as he met them at the door. “If you’ll just follow me; I have the table you requested all ready for you.”
The table you requested? So this was all planned, Claire realised as she followed the Maitre d’ between tables of elegant women and stylishly dressed men, I wonder just how long ago Cameron decided he needed to make things clear to me?
Every table they passed was occupied, the buzz of the conversation and laughter of the patrons floating above gentle strains of classical music. Soft light filtered down from sparkling chandeliers and the air was fragrant with the combination of gourmet food and expensive perfume. It was only as they approached their table and Claire spotted the baby grand in the corner that she realised that a pianist was actually playing live.
Claire took a deep breath as the Maitre d’ seated her facing the view while Cameron took his place just to her right. Their table was set slightly apart from the others, in a small alcove that overlooked the lake through a floor to ceiling bay window.
Twinkling lights along the opposite shore laid down zigzag reflections that stretched across the inky water, and Claire gazed out on the scene with an aching heart, wishing there was another reason for her and Cameron’s presence.
Neither of them was in the frame of mind to appreciate the beauty around them and it seemed a dreadful shame to be there to mark the end and not the beginning of a dream.
“What do you feel like?” Cameron asked a few moments later, frowning at one of the menus the waiter had left them, “I know I said dessert, but why don’t you order a meal - you hardly ate anything at the steakhouse.”
Claire blushed, embarrassed that he’d obviously been aware of her distress during dinner. “It’s okay, Cameron, you don’t really need to be worrying over me any more,” she replied in a teasing tone, “It’s been very nice being spoiled and all that, but I can look after myself you know.”
She glanced down the menu, but she was so nervous that the words glimmered illegibly beneath her eyes and she put it down, smiling across at him.
“I’ll just have whatever you’re having - I’m really not that hungry, Cam.”
“No?” He frowned again and she noticed how unnaturally pale he was, “I can imagine. Dinner was not the best time to spring everything about David’s plans on you like that. I’m really sorry I didn’t tell you before - ”
Claire raised her hand dismissively, cutting him off. “Nothing to apologise for, I understand perfectly. You know far too well how I overreact to situations like that and - ”
“It’s not like that, I understand why it would be so hard for you - ” Cameron stopped short as a waiter appeared at his elbow, and he looked again at the menu, uncharacteristically flustered.
“Um,” he let out a tense breath and looked questioningly at her. “What about the fruit and cheese platter?”
Claire nodded in confirmation, glad he’d suggested a shared platter she could just pick at rather than the added pressure of a rich dessert she’d have to force herself to eat. Her stomach was already in tight knots as the waiter wrote down their order and departed.
Cameron began to apologise again about springing Max’s visit on her, but she interrupted, determined to make things easier for him.
“I don’t blame you in the least, Cameron - I know it was David’s choice. I’ve got a lot to learn about letting him go, about trusting him and giving him his own space. I really appreciate the help you’ve been to me these last few weeks in starting to understand that – I know it’s right - but it’s just going to take me some time now to get used to it. But that’s okay, with God’s help I’ll get there.”
She was trying to reassure him that she was ready to continue on her own without expecting his continual support, but her statement seemed to do anything other than relax him.
She now had absolutely no doubt that Cameron was seriously troubled by what was on his mind. He had pleated and unpleated the napkin in front of him some half a dozen times, his eyes constantly flicking up to hers but never remaining for more than a moment. It was as if he were trying to assess how she would take what he had to tell her.
Her heart seemed to stop as he ran his tongue across his lips before he took a deep breath and she thought, here it comes. This is where he makes it all clear to me exactly where our friendship stands . . . Claire only wished she’d been better at covering her own feelings so he hadn’t felt the need to clarify their relationship.
Cameron swallowed and hesitated, and then when he made some vague comment about the view Claire realised that he’d changed his mind, probably deciding to wait until after their dessert had been served. The false alarm left her feeling dizzy with tension and she answered his small talk rather ineptly as she waited in dread for the return of the waiter.
Moments after the platter had been laid on the table between them, she knew her guess had been right. Cameron waited until she’d helped herself to a cluster of green grapes and then cleared his throat and looked determinedly across at her.
“It’s going to be very strange taking you home after all this time away together. I can’t tell you how much I’ve appreciated having you stay. Part of me wishes things could just go on the way they are . . . but I know that’s not possible either.”
Claire locked her ankles together under the table to keep her knees from shaking. She had been praying about accepting this for weeks - now she would just have to trust that God would give her the strength to carry it off. It was obviously difficult enough for Cameron as it was and she had no desire to make him feel any worse by showing him how much it hurt.
“It’s okay, Cam, I really appreciate everything you’ve done for me, but I know things will be different now we’re back here.” She pinned what she hoped was a convincing smile on her face, “I do understand that.”
“No, I don’t thing you do understand.” Cameron shook his head, his brow deeply creased, and Claire saw that his hands were shaking. Oh, no – he is going to spell it out for me! she thought in dismay, fearing that she couldn’t bear to hear him putting it into words.
“You don’t understand at all,” he repeated and took a deep breath. “I love you, Ginger, more than I even thought it was possible to love any person. I know I don’t deserve you, and after everything I’ve done I have absolutely no right to ask, but I want so very much to marry you and - ”
Claire looked at him in speechless surprise and then burst into tears.
“Oh, Sweetheart! I’m so sorry, I know you’re not ready. I knew I never should have asked tonight,” he began apologising anxiously, “I just couldn’t bear to let you go home without letting you know how much I love you, how much I care - ”
Claire was still unable to say anything, and he continued, “I’m not asking you to make any kind of commitment to me, I just want you to know that I am completely committed to you - and that I’ll wait however long it takes until you feel you can trust me enough to consider a future with me again.”
He licked his dry lips, and thrust a small velvet box into her hands. “Here, I want you to keep this, as my promise to you, so you have no doubt how absolutely serious I am about our future. Maybe one day you’ll be ready to wear it - ”
“Oh, Cam!” Claire managed on a hiccup, some where between a sob and laugh of sheer relief, “I had no idea . . . when you wanted to go somewhere quiet to talk to me . . . I thought you were trying to make sure I knew it was all over between us and to warn me to keep my distance!”
“Why on earth would you think that?” he asked, his countenance beginning to lighten.
“This whole time we’ve been together at your home - you’ve been a wonderful friend to me - but not the slightest hint of anything more. After everything that has happened, I was so sure you couldn’t love me any more.”
“But I promised you at the hospital that while you stayed with me I wouldn’t put any pressure on you regarding our relationship, that I’d only treat you as a sister. Don’t you remember that?”
“Oh . . . now I do.” An incredible sensation of warmth and lightness was flooding over Claire as she looked into his eyes, barely daring to believe what she was hearing.
“If you had any idea of the agony that promise has caused me these last few weeks,” Cameron continued huskily, “to be so close to you, to continually ache with the longing to take you into my arms and tell you how much I love you . . . and to have to remind myself again and again that I promised you and vowed to God that I wouldn't do that while ever you stayed.”
“But how could you still want me, Cameron? After everything that happened, now that you know what I’m really like . . . ”
“Now that I know what you’re really like?” Cameron repeated with a smile, his blue eyes sparkling as he reached across the table and took her hands in his, “Now that I’ve seen your courage and unwavering faith in God in the most difficult circumstances? Now that I’ve seen your willingness to give me your friendship even after seeing what dreadful things I am capable of? Now that I’ve experienced the way you inspire me daily to change and grow in my own faith?
“I know I have your friendship - and I treasure that – but I love you and I so desperately want to marry you whenever you’re ready. I don’t care how long I have to wait for you . . . but I hope I’m right in thinking it’s not impossible?”
Claire stared back at him, half afraid that what was happening could only be some kind of unreal dream. The beauty of their surroundings and the rich music of the piano seemed to float all around her, and she clung to Cameron’s hands - the warmth of his very human touch reassuring her that it was not all within her imagination.
“Oh, Cameron . . . I have never stopped loving you. Not even for a moment,” she whispered and with curiously shaking fingers lifted up the little velvet box he’d placed beneath her hands. “Will you put it on for me?”
“Are you sure, Sweetheart?” he asked hoarsely, “If you want to take your time to think about it . . . ”
She shook her head, “No, there is nothing in this world I could ever want more than to be your wife.”
Cameron bit his lower lip, his eyes moist with emotion as he lifted out a slender band of gold and diamonds and slid it carefully onto her third finger.
“Oh, Cameron - it’s so beautiful!” she breathed, overwhelmed by sheer joy as he raised her hands to his lips, gently kissing her fingertips. A moment later he smiled, and reached across to wipe away the tears which had begun rolling down her cheeks again.
“I’m sorry, Cam, I don’t even know why I’m crying - I’ve never felt happier,” she apologised, suddenly longing for him to hold her. As though he’d read her thoughts, Cameron wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close against his chest.
“Are you really sure you’re ready to make this kind of commitment?” he asked, pressing his lips against her hair.
“Uh-huh,” she replied, snuggling in against his shoulder, the feeling of his strength wonderfully reassuring, “I only wish I didn’t have to go home tonight, that I could just stay with you forever. I still can’t believe you really want to marry me. Had you any thoughts of when?”
“Tonight sounds good, I don't like the thought of going home without you either. Do you think Justin’s Dad would still be up? Perhaps we could coerce him into bending the rules, and performing the ceremony on the spot,” Cameron teased. “But failing that, my darling Ginger, I’m ready just as soon as you are.”
As she began to consider their future, Claire sighed heavily, the complications of reality finally intruding on her dream world.
“Cameron,” she asked seriously, sitting back so she could face him again, “Do you understand about David . . . and about Dad?”
“One of the reasons I’d like to marry you as soon as possible is so I can fully support you through what ever is coming with your father, darling. And of course David will always have a home with us, whenever he wants or needs it,” he squeezed her hands reassuringly. “I’ve always known that to be the case. At the moment I think he’s keen to spread his wings a little - but even that will be easier for him if he knows he’s always got a home to come back to.”
She looked up at him, frowning. “Everything with his job . . . with Max . . . he’s not just trying to get out of my way, do you think?”
Cameron shook his head, “No - this visit from Max has been in the offing for some time, and while your accident gave David the impetus to look at different alternatives for gaining more independence, I really believe he’s doing that just as much for himself as for you.”
“It’s just that I’d hate him to somehow be hurt by our happiness.”
“David will be thrilled by our happiness, my love. He told me tonight how he hoped that we would marry - he caught me checking my pocket for the ring and guessed that I was planning to propose. His only proviso was that I wouldn’t give up if you said no at first.”
Claire smiled mistily at him, “And I had no idea - I was convinced you were going to ask me to give up all hope.”
She stretched out her left hand, tilting it so that the diamonds sparkled in the candlelight. The ring looked stunning on her slender finger - it was elegant without being at all ostentatious, and the dozen or so small diamonds were inset completely within the narrow band.
“The ring is just so perfect, Cam, thank you. I couldn’t imagine anything nicer. I’ve never felt comfortable wearing jewellery, but somehow this feels as though it was made just for me.”
“It was, you know.”
She looked at him incredulously, “You’re joking!”
“No, it was the only way I could get exactly what I wanted for you. The diamonds were from my grandmother’s engagement ring, and I had the jeweller design it so it was completely smooth – I knew you wouldn’t wear anything that might scratch David’s skin. Getting it made in just a few weeks was a challenge, though.”
“I can’t believe you’ve done all that for me. You’re incredible!” Claire exclaimed and then impulsively leaned forward and kissed him full on the lips.
Cameron chuckled with pleasure, slipping his arm around her shoulders and hugging her warmly.
“I can’t tell you how relieved I am that you like it, Mum insisted you’d be insulted by something so small and discreet.” He caught her left hand in his, gazing at the ring and lightly tracing his finger over the back of her hand.
“Your mother knew?”
“Uh-huh. My parents both knew that was what I had in mind when I asked you to stay with us,” he replied, sending delicious shivers up her arm as his fingertip continued to draw lazy patterns on her skin, “Why do you think she was giving you such a hard time? It’s going to take her a while to accept a daughter-in-law who’s so wonderfully different from herself.”
“Is it going to be hard for you with your parents, Cam?”
He shook his head, “Not at all. Dad’s very happy about it, and by the wedding Mum will have convinced everyone that it was all her idea. Mum will do anything for appearance's sake, even if it means swallowing her pride and accepting you into the family as my wife. She knows I won’t stand by and let you be hurt by anyone either.”
The look of fierce protectiveness in Cameron’s eyes brought tears to her once again, but just as she reached out to him to take her in his arms again, he straightened suddenly and looked up, over her shoulder.
Claire turned to see the waiter hovering just beyond their table and blushed with embarrassment. Their conversation had been so intimate that she had lost all awareness of their surroundings until the sight of the waiter’s wide grin brought it quickly back.
“Am I right in assuming congratulations are in order?” he asked, nodding significantly towards the open ring box. “The matre d’ will be over shortly, but he asked me to tell you that in honour of the occasion he would like you to accept your meal with his compliments.”
Knowing Cameron’s dislike of any kind of charity, Claire glanced quickly across at him, but he had extended his hand to accept the waiter's hearty handshake and was beaming back at him.
“Yes, thank you - we certainly are celebrating. Claire has just made me the happiest man in the world.” He took Claire’s hand in his again, turning it to proudly display that she was indeed wearing his ring.
“Then I am honoured to be the first person to congratulate you both. You both obviously couldn’t be happier, and I have no doubt you will enjoy a wonderful life together. May I bring you some champagne to toast the occasion?
“That would be lovely - ” Cameron began, then stopped and smiled at Claire in a way that completely melted her heart before continuing, “but would you mind if were a non-alcoholic wine instead?”
“Certainly, sir,” he replied, leaning forward as Cameron whispered something in his ear that Claire was unable to catch. The waiter exchanged a conspiratorial smile with him, returning a few moments later with a fancy bottle and two glasses.
He left it in Cameron’s charge and Claire sat back in her chair, relieved to be left alone in each other's company again. However, just as Cameron released the cork with a loud pop the pianist began playing the popular classic, “Going to the Chapel, and We’re Going to Get Married”, and the whole restaurant erupted into a spontaneous round of applause and cheering.
Claire covered her open mouth with her hands, mortified to realise that the other diners and staff had obviously been watching them all evening with the full awareness of what was being discussed between them. Cameron raised his glass to the room in a delighted acknowledgement of the applause, grinning at the effect of his requested song.
It wasn’t until the after the song had ended that the other diners returned to their own conversations and, relieved the attention was finally off them, Claire leant back in her chair with a loud sigh.
“What exactly have I gotten myself into, Cameron Alexander?” she demanded sternly, but couldn’t keep the smile from her face for more than a few seconds. There were worse things in life than a man who wanted the world to know he loved you.
Cameron handed a glass to her, and raised his in a toast, “To the Lord who gives us all good things, to a beautiful woman who has agreed to be my wife, and to a wonderful future together.”
Claire clinked her glass against Cameron’s, nodding in agreement. “Yes - to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.”
She took a sip from her glass and placed it on the table, closing her eyes for a brief moment as she whispered,
“Thank you, Lord, thank you.”
THE END div>
© R Brown 2005