Cameron flicked absent-mindedly through the files in front of him as he waited for the others to join him for the daily conference. Claire usually came up to his office at least ten minutes before the others and as always he’d been looking forward to chatting with her while she set up the computer in preparation for taking the minutes of the meeting.
He hadn’t spoken to her since he’d been called away during lunch, and Claire had spent the afternoon assisting Chris with a weights program in the gym while he himself had been outdoors with another group of patients.
He was disappointed that she was running later than usual - he hoped to get a chance to speak to her alone before Chris and Lynette came - as he was a little worried that he’d taken things too far in the dining room at lunch time. When he’d joined her at the table for lunch afterwards, she had said little, and had avoided meeting his eyes. He could usually read her so well, but her reaction had puzzled him, and he hated to think that he’d offended her.
He was surprised to realise how much her good opinion mattered to him, just as it continued to surprise him how constantly she was in his thoughts. He woke up thinking of her, and throughout the day he continually looked forward to the next opportunity of seeing her again - although it was usually only in the company of others. Even during the weekends at his parent’s property lately, he’d found himself counting down the hours until Monday morning.
He was just beginning to accept how serious his feelings for Claire were, but even praying for wisdom concerning his relationship with her had been very confronting. He’d never even considered marriage after his accident - when his fiancee had broken off their engagement immediately after finding out he’d become a paraplegic. And after becoming a Christian he’d found a complete contentment with the situation God had placed him in, and his life was so full and satisfying that he’d never felt any need for a girlfriend or wife.
But Claire was so different from any young lady he’d ever met - either before or after becoming a Christian - that he’d been shaken out of his complacency, and his whole future suddenly seemed uncertain. All he knew was that he instinctively hoped that she’d be a part of it.
He heard someone at the door and looked up, fully expecting to see Claire - and feeling keenly disappointed that it was only Lynette.
“Am I the first one here?” she asked, her bangles jangling as she ambled over to the other side of the conference table, “Claire’s usually here by now, isn’t she?”
When he nodded, she smiled at him and leant back against her chair, turning to look out at the view, “Good - it’ll be nice to have time to enjoy my coffee before we get started. Sometimes Claire’s just a bit too efficient for my pace.”
Cameron was glad to see that she wasn’t expecting an answer and as he returned his eyes unseeingly to the notes in front of him, his thoughts returned to Claire.
From the first day she’d started working there he’d been drawn to her - from the way she boldly owned her Christian faith even before he’d revealed his own commitment to God, to her transparent honesty when she confessed how different he was to her expectations of him.
He’d been impressed by the firm self confidence she’d shown later that same afternoon when she’d stood up to him in the conference because she didn’t want to betray Tyrone’s confidence by reporting on her conversation, and then by her graciousness in quietly conceding when he overruled her.
He’d found her incredibly attractive from the first moment he’d seen her at her desk before they’d even met - and his appreciation of her expressive face and lithe figure had only grown the more he had come to know her. He loved her confident and vivacious personality - the way she seemed to tackle every challenge in her job with a brave gusto, and seemed to thrive on the genuine friendships she’d built up with all the staff and patients in such a short time.
He glanced again at his watch - nearly ten past four. It was hardly out of character for Chris to be running late, but it was unusual for Claire not to be there. He let out a deep sigh - it would seem she was making sure that she wouldn’t be there before the others - could she really be wanting to avoid being alone with him?
He sighed again, sure now that he’d taken things too far with Claire at lunch time, and in the process pushed her away. And that had been the very last thing he’d wanted to do . . .
“What are you so worried about, Cameron dear?” Lynette turned to him with keen eyes, “You’re sighing like a set of leaky bag pipes!”
“Was I?” he replied, startled from his thoughts, “Just wondering what’s keeping Chris and Claire - you know we all like to get away on a Friday afternoon.”
Lynette frowned, obviously unconvinced by his answer, but turned towards the door as they heard Chris and Claire’s laughter coming along the corridor.
“There you go, that sounds like them now.”
Cameron looked up as Chris and Claire entered the office, his stomach sinking as Claire headed straight for the computer without even glancing in his direction.
“I hope you two have got a late note!” he said, picking up the first file and trying to marshal his distracted thoughts, “Chris - I don’t know if I’ll let you borrow Claire again if you’re going to corrupt her like this - she was always punctual before she helped out with your team.”
“You’ll have to give me a bit more time than just one afternoon, Cameron, if you really want me to bring her up to my standards.” he replied with a laugh, taking his usual place beside Lynette.
Cameron glanced again at Claire, but she was intently focussed on the screen in front of her, and he was unable to guess anything of her state of mind.
“Let’s make a start then.” he began with another sigh and opened up the first file. The reports on the first several patients were straight forward enough and he was too distracted by his thoughts about Claire to be interested in any of Chris and Lynette’s usual banter and kept things moving along more quickly than usual.
Perhaps if we finished up earlier, he thought, I might have a chance to talk to Claire before she has to leave. He’d noticed that she was always inflexible about leaving right on five . . .he vaguely remembered her saying something about her needing to be back before her brother was dropped home.
As was generally the case, they spent a little longer discussing Tyrone. His own efforts to make contact with Tyrone’s family had been futile - Tyrone’s assessment of their attitude towards him had unfortunately been accurate, and their other strategies had met with only mixed success.
Still, Cameron was encouraged by the way Tyrone’s friendship with Claire seemed to be developing, and when Chris and Lynette had finished their reports, he turned to Claire and asked her how she felt he was going.
She met his eyes thoughtfully for a few seconds before answering, and Cameron was relieved to see no sign of animosity or reservation towards him in her expression.
“Still very up and down,” she said finally, “He’s showing more interest in things, but I still get the impression that he’s reserving his judgement as to whether it’s worth all the effort of carrying on.” She paused, as though weighing up whether to add anything further.
They’d reached a workable arrangement about her reports on Tyrone - Cameron appreciated her reluctance to relay specific information about him - so he avoided asking her direct questions, and was satisfied with the more generalised reports that she was comfortable giving. He respected her judgement of the situation and trusted her to pass on to the team anything she felt was in Tyrone’s best interest for them to know.
“I really appreciated that extra time on the internet with him this morning, Cameron, I introduced him to -”
“Cam-er-on?” Chris cut in, mimicking her voice with a cheeky grin, “He’s Cam-er-on to you now, is he, Claire? He wasn’t Cam-er-on when you were talking about him to me downstairs just this afternoon! This is an interesting development, Claire . . .I’m curious about why Dr Alex-an-der has suddenly become Cam-er-on?”
“Because Dr Alexander thought it was pretty silly that Claire was the only one of you who didn’t call me Cameron, Chris!” Cameron answered him sternly, as he noticed Claire’s eyes widen in panic like a rabbit caught in the glare of headlights, “So, she has suddenly started calling me Cameron right after I told her to. I didn’t realise I needed to get your permission, Chris.”
Chris turned to him unabashed and smiled widely, his brown eyes glittering - and Cameron realised that by intervening and exerting his authority he had only raised Chris’ curiosity further.
“Now who’s next?” he said abruptly, picking up the last file. As they discussed a particular problem the patient was having, Cameron struggled to identify an important connection that was lurking in the back of his mind.
If only I could keep my thoughts straight! he thought in annoyance before blurting out, “I can’t put my finger on it - but I feel like we’ve had this discussion before.”
“Deja vue?” suggested Lynette with a chuckle.
“Something like that - but with someone else. I’m sure another patient had this exact problem, but for the life of me I can’t think who . . .ah, do you remember that guy with all the tattoo’s . . .he was a truck driver, I think, but I can’t think of his name .”
Chris nodded, “Yeah - I think I know who you mean - he was the one who beached the jetski at full throttle ‘cause he wanted to see how far up the shore he could get!”
“Yes - that’s the one.” Cameron agreed, laughing, “I’m sure we went through something very similar with him. If only I could remember his name, Claire could get his file for us.”
“I can’t think of his name either - but then I’m never any good at names,” Lynette said, “but it’s not like you, Cameron, forgetting details like this!”
“I know. . .hang on - wasn’t he Eric? Everyone called him Eric the Viking because of that tattoo!”
“Shall I go and look him up under “V” for Viking?” Claire suggested, and Cameron was pleased to see the familiar sparkle back in her eyes.
“Yes - very funny, Claire - but if you knew what the last girl who did your job was like, you’d realise that it probably is filed under that!” he laughed, and then suddenly remembered, “It was a strange name - something incongruous. You know, like Mr Small for a big guy like you, Chris.”
“That’s it,” Chris snapped his fingers, “Manners! Eric Manners - you’re right it was incongruous - he was the rudest bloke we’d ever had here!”
As they all laughed, Claire went to the door, “I’ll go and get his file for you, Cam-er-on.” she announced and disappeared quickly into the corridor. He smiled as he stared at the now empty doorway, appreciating her parting shot to Chris about his name.
Claire had a quick wit and a strong will, and he’d noticed how much she enjoyed the verbal sparring with any of the staff or patients who tempted to challenge her about anything.
She usually gave as good as she got, or better, without becoming ruffled - and it had been out of character for her to falter and blush when Chris had teased her about calling him Cameron. But her hesitation made perfect sense to him, he’d noticed from the beginning that she could never quite keep her nerve when it concerned him.
Cameron enjoyed nothing more than pitting his wits against hers, often over the most trivial things - and in the process had discovered a lot more about her than he was sure she’d meant to reveal. While in a battle of wills she was more than a match for Chris or any of the others who regularly took her on, he had noticed that whenever he was alone with her she lost some of her edge - and although outwardly she never backed down, he could see a vulnerability and uncharacteristic lack of confidence plainly revealed in her eyes.
From the very first moment their eyes had met at the front desk, Cameron knew that he unnerved her - and that when he looked into her eyes, she could not hide what she was thinking from him.
And just as he could not deny his growing attraction to her - he had no doubt as to the way she felt about him. He smiled to himself - thinking about the way she always smiled and blushed slightly when she saw him looking at her, how she took a deep breath and drew herself up tensely whenever he came close to her, her nervousness in his presence and her determination to impress him all the more evident the harder she tried to hide it.
Although he could read her reactions to him as though they were printed on her face, he could not understand why she remained so determinedly guarded about her feelings for him. He was sure that she was as attracted to him as he was to her, so why was she so reluctant to admit it?
He deeply desired their friendship to move onto a more personal level - but he wanted to know whether she really was comfortable with that before taking the next step and asking to see her outside of work.
The only times she let down her guard with him and came close to actually revealing the way she felt about him, was when she was distracted by his teasing - and so he had kept teasing her, hoping that by gently applying pressure in her one weak spot he could in some way bring her feelings for him out into the open.
He’d actually thought he’d done just that when he’d seen her reaction to him in the dining room over the prank with the coke - it had been as though she’d finally understood what he was doing. But she’d withdrawn so quickly behind the barrier that she kept between them that he’d realised that he would not be able to reach her that way either.
Why did she want to keep that distance from him . . .was she still unsure of him, or did she just need more time?
Cameron was startled from his thoughts when a ball of paper hit him in the chest. He looked across quickly at Chris and Lynette who were both grinning at him.
“Welcome back, Cameron.” Lynette laughed, “Now I know what all your sighing is about.”
“Yeah, mate - you have really fallen hard!” Chris added, shaking his head.
“What are you talking about?”
“You’ve been lost in your own world, staring at that door since Claire walked out five minutes ago, mate! Why don’t you put us all out of our misery and just ask her out?”
Cameron looked at them and smiled in resignation - they’d been his friends for too long and knew him too well for him to be able to bluff his way out of this one.
“Oh, I plan to - but it’s a timing thing - these things are delicate, you know.” he said, unwilling to explain his hesitation any further.
“Yeah - you mean it’s delicate because you’re worried she might not say yes?” Chris laughed, “There’s only two kinds of timing, Cameron - either you do it, and ask her out, or you’re too gutless and you don’t. Nothing delicate about that, mate.”
“Oh, she’ll say yes, darling!” Lynette nodded enthusiastically, making her long earrings swing wildly, “It’s just as obvious how she feels about you too - Claire would hardly put up with the attention you’ve been giving her if she wasn’t interested! You’ve got nothing to worry about, Cameron.”
“No, I’ve got nothing to worry about except you two thinking I need your advice!” he ran his hands through his hair, “I don’t know what gives you the idea that I need any help with -” he stopped dead, jerking his head up as Claire silently appeared in the doorway.
She hesitated, looking from one guilty face tothe other.
“What? What is it?” she asked, “You look like you’ve been caught out talking about me or something!”
“Yep - we were.” Chris said boldly, “Cameron wants to ask you out to dinner tonight, being Friday night and all.”
“Chris!” Cameron groaned, wishing that there was a large, heavy object within reach that he could have thrown at him, “I can do my own asking, thank you very much.”
Chris laughed, “Sure, mate - but you’ve been thinking about doing it for weeks as it is. Without a bit of a push you might not get around to it for months, and we won’t get any sense out of either of you until you do!”
Cameron shook his head at him in exasperation, and quickly tried to decide how to rescue the situation. If he dropped the topic now she might think that he didn’t really want to ask her out, but if he did go ahead would he risk pushing her further away?
He looked back up at Claire, who was still standing in the doorway holding a file and watching him with an amused smile. She met his eyes confidently, and he was surprised that far from looking offended, she seemed to be enjoying seeing him on the receiving end of Chris’ ribbing for once.
“I’m sorry, Claire - although I had every intention of asking you out, in my own time,” he turned and glared pointedly at Chris before continuing, “It certainly was not my plan to put you on the spot like this in front of the others. But since Chris has pre-empted me . . . I would be honoured if I could take you out to dinner tonight.”
“Thank you, Cameron - and I would have been delighted to accept . . .” she began, as she handed him the file and then returned to her seat behind the computer, “But I’ve already been asked out to dinner and the movies tonight by another young man.”
Her answer was so totally unexpected that Cameron felt cold right through, and while he wanted to reply quickly so it wasn’t obvious how much it had hurt him, he found that his mouth was so dry that he couldn’t even swallow.
It never occurred to me that there could be someone else . . .that must be why she keeps her distance . . .he thought, relieved that Lynette spoke so quickly that his silence was unnoticed.
“You’re a dark horse, darling - you’ve never mentioned a man before. Who is he?”
“Oh, a very nice man - we’ve been close for a very long time . . .his name is David Williams.” Claire answered, and while her matter-of-fact tone made Cameron feel even more wretched he had the strange feeling that there was something familiar about that man’s name.
Both Chris and Lynette were laughing, though he couldn’t understand why, and then he heard Lynette asking if they were going out for a special occasion.
“Yes - David dabbles in a bit of share trading on the internet as a hobby, and he’s just made his first real gain - so he’s taking me out to celebrate.”
Cameron was miserably picturing a suave businessman in an expensive suit taking Claire out to dinner, but something about his name kept nagging at him . . .Williams . . .David Williams . . .
“That’s your brother, isn’t it?” he asked suddenly, a hot wave of relief flooding through him when she nodded.
“Yes - didn’t you realise? I’m sure I’ve talked to you about my brother.” she answered in surprise.
“Yes . . .you have . . . but I don’t think I knew his name.”
This David Williams they were discussing didn’t fit the vague image he had of a brother whom she always wanted to be home for, presumably when he came home from school.
“He’s quite a bit younger than you, isn’t he? What’s he doing share trading already?”
“Oh, no - he’s not younger - he’s about the same age as you, Cameron. But he’s only into the share market in a very small way - although he spends hours analysing the market trends and researching the companies he invests in, he started with very little capital, and the gains are still very low. We’re just celebrating the fact that some shares he bought last Friday had quadrupled in value when he sold them on Tuesday morning.”
The pride in her voice as she spoke of him was obvious, and her eyes were sparkling as she continued., “I’d love you to meet him, Cameron - if you really are serious about dinner, why don’t you join us tonight?”
“Of course I’m serious about taking you out, Claire - but won’t David be put out if I come too?”
“Oh, not all - he’d love to meet you, he’s heard all about you and he’s very interested in the different methods you’ve been trialling here. No, I’m sure David would be very pleased if you came.”
“Thanks Claire, that would be lovely.” he replied, as Chris cleared his throat loudly.
“As proud as I am for bringing you both together - you can gaze into each others eyes over dinner later! Can we just get on to Eric the Viking so the rest of us can get home to our boring lives?”
Cameron laughed, so thrilled with Claire’s unexpected openness toward him that Chris’ comment didn’t even rankle him. He flicked quickly through the file Claire had handed him.
“Yes, I was right, Eric Manners did have exactly the same kind of complications.” he said, looking up at the clock. It was only quarter to five - but his ability to concentrate had entirely evaporated, and he thought that if he ended the meeting now he’d have a chance to make arrangements for the evening with Claire before she disappeared precisely at five as she usually did.
“But I’ll go through his notes myself over the weekend. I wouldn’t want to keep you from your boring life one minute longer, Chris - you’re free to go.”
“Thanks for thinking of me, mate - you’re all heart.” Chris winked, as he got up and made his way to the door, holding it open for Lynette.
“Have a good weekend!” she called out meaningfully to Claire, who was still finishing up her notes on the computer, and then nodded to Cameron with a warm smile as she left, closing the door behind her.
Cameron sat and watched as Claire retrieved the finished pages from the printer, and gathered them together. He noticed her take a deep breath before bringing them over to him, and he saw that now that they were alone her earlier confidence had vanished, and she seemed suddenly very shy of him.
There is that barrier again - what is she afraid of?
“Claire - I’m sorry to have put you on the spot like that about dinner,” he began as she handed him the minutes, and hesitated awkwardly beside him, “It’s not fair to have asked you out in front of the others - I hope you don’t feel obliged if you are uncomfortable about it.”
“No, I wouldn’t have said yes if I didn’t mean it,” she answered quietly, “But if you only asked because of what Chris said, I’d understand if you’d rather not go ahead with it.”
“No, Claire - I didn’t ask because of Chris! I’ve wanted to ask you out from the first day I met you, but I was waiting until I was a little more sure about how you felt about things. If Chris hadn’t brought it up, I might not have asked tonight - but I wouldn’t have waited much longer!”
He smiled, looking into her warm brown eyes as she regarded him closely, “And I want you to know that I certainly wasn’t discussing you with Chris and Lynette - I’d never joke about something as important as this. But they know me extremely well, and had guessed how I feel about you, and were just ribbing me about it when you came back into the room.”
Claire didn’t answer, but turned and looked out through the window, and stared over the metallic water of the lake for a few moments before starting hesitantly.
“Cameron . . .I know I put you on the spot too - about David. It’s probably unfair for me to expect you to come out with us both . . . you might find it really uncomfortable. . .I’d understand if you’d rather not . . .”
He looked at her thoughtfully, noticing the way the glowing sun had set her hair alight with ginger flames.
She’s so uptight - what is she so worried about? Okay, a date with her older brother in tow is not quite what I had in mind . . . but it’s a start, and if that’s what she’s comfortable with . . .he reflected, noticing that her face was pale beneath her freckles, and that her hands were clenched as she stared through the window.
She’s really scared about this - and it’s probably all to do with why she’d been holding back from me. She wants to go out with me but she’s still not entirely certain about it - maybe that’s why she feels more comfortable with us being chaperoned by her brother.
Aloud he said, “Claire, if this is what you’re comfortable with, it’s perfectly fine with me. I’m looking forward to meeting your brother - but only if you’re sure that David won’t mind?”
“No - he’ll be thrilled to have your company.” Her face was soft and childlike as she turned back to face him, “Thank you, Cameron - I didn’t know if you’d understand.”
He didn’t really understand what she meant, but as he looked at her standing there beside him, he realised that this young woman whose confidence melted like wax when they were alone, was so different from the indomitable Claire Williams he’d so often locked horns with at the front reception desk or during the sports activities.
For the first time he was seeing more fully the vulnerability within her that he’d caught only a glimpse of in her eyes before. She looked so fragile and defenceless right then that he longed to hold her in his arms, and reassure her that whatever she was so frightened of, he would never hurt her.
“Shall I pick you up here - or would you like to meet us at home?” she asked practically, bringing him quickly out of his thoughts.
“I hadn’t thought about that. I’d rather come to your place, if that’s okay - I’ll then go straight up to the farm from there afterwards. But my car is only a two-seater - have you got room for all of us and my wheelchair?”
“Yes - that’s certainly not a problem, I’ve got the van from my old job, remember?” she looked at him, and he saw the familiar challenge back in her eyes, “That red sports car I’ve seen in the car park a couple of times isn’t yours, is it, Cameron?”
“Yes, it is. Though it spends most of its time in the garage.”
“I wouldn’t have thought a sports car was terribly practical!”
“No - but it looks great, and it’s very fast.” he laughed, “I’ll have to take you for a long run in it sometime soon - it’s certainly an experience.”
“Yes - I can imagine.” she smiled, glancing up at her watch, “Oh, it’s five o’clock already - I’d better go.”
Cameron went with her to the door, remembering to check on what time she wanted him to arrive.
“Is seven-thirty too late for you? I’m sorry but I need all the time I can to get ready.” she said.
“No, that’s fine - but you don’t need to worry about spending time getting ready, Claire - you look perfect just as you are right now.” he said a little awkwardly, his attraction to her growing even stronger in the brief time they’d spent talking in the open knowledge of each others feelings.
Claire blushed and laughed, “No, I don’t mean getting ready like that! Once I get home I certainly won’t have the luxury of any more than five minutes for myself! I’m sorry, I’ve really got to get home or David will be there before me.” she said, opening the door. She started to leave, but hesitated, turning back to Cameron.
“Cameron . . .this might be really awkward for us . . .working together . . .and . . .” she left the sentence unfinished, but her eyes clearly revealed her hopes for the future.
Cameron felt his heart begin to race - and he reached out and took her hand, thrilled by the feel of her soft, cool skin as he held her slender hand in his.
“Even if it is a little awkward to begin with - it’s worth it, Claire - you mean so much to me.”
Even as he spoke the words, Cameron realised how very much he meant it.
“Thank you.” Her voice was little more than a whisper, and she took a shuddering breath before stepping back quickly, “I’m sorry - but I’ve really got to go.” She turned, and disappeared down the corridor.
Just like Cinderella - except Claire disappears at the stroke of five - not midnight, he thought as he closed the door and returned to his desk, trying to untangle the questions which were forming in his mind.
It had made sense why she would want to rush off to meet her brother when he’d assumed he was only school-age - but he couldn’t work out why would she feel under such pressure to be there when her elder brother got home - from the sound of his share trading he certainly sounded capable enough.
What kind of relationship does she have with her brother that she was always so worried about being home late, and only feels comfortable going out with me in his company? Is he that exacting and domineering? No - Claire certainly doesn't speak about David as though she is fearful of him in anyway; the way she speaks about him was almost maternal.
So why was she so concerned that I wouldn’t want to go out with her and her brother? And what is the point about the van from her old job - it seemed strange that a young lady like her would want a van, even if it was cheap - as it is she never drives to work anyway, she said it only takes her ten minutes to walk here from home.
Cameron stared out of the window, watching the sun lay down a narrow golden carpet that ran like a path from the water’s edge to the distant shore. He was only just realising that he knew almost nothing about Claire or her family - and that in their many conversations they’d never spoken on personal matters at all.
In fact, the fifteen minutes they’d just spent alone now was probably the longest they’d ever spent in conversation without being interrupted by someone else. And even in that brief time he’d already glimpsed so much more in her that he was yet to understand - and he couldn’t wait for the evening to come and the chance to begin really getting to know her.
© R Brown 2005