By the time that Claire joined the queue to purchase the movie tickets she was so angry with Dr Cameron Alexander that she felt nearly capable of strangling him with her bare hands.
How dare he be so obnoxious to David and me! I never imagined that someone of his intelligence could behave so atrociously! she fumed, but at least I found out now, before things went any further between us.
She tapped her foot impatiently as she waited for the line to progress - she had a splitting headache and the bright lights of the theatre foyer seemed to burn into the back of her eyes. Keeping her raging emotions under control would have been difficult in the circumstances at the best of times, but forcing herself to remain cheerful while feeling so sick and exhausted was torture.
She longed for the refuge of the dark movie theatre - she needed only to hold herself together for a few more minutes and then there would be at least some measure of escape from this living nightmare. Even as she silently vented her anger against Cameron, it did little relieve the searing pain of rejection and betrayal which she’d felt from the moment that he had met her brother.
Claire had realised there and then that she’d made a terrible mistake inviting Cameron - and that like so many other people they’d met, he had clearly been unable to handle the extent of David’s disability - but she’d never been more keenly disappointed. She’d been so sure that Cameron was different to the others - he hadn’t hesitated about coming out with them, even though he’d known all about David.
But if he couldn’t cope with it, why did he agree to come? I gave him every chance to back out of it this afternoon - I even suggested he might be uncomfortable! He chose to come, so how could he treat us so badly?
What hurt most of all was that he hadn’t even tried to disguise his reaction to David - and as the evening progressed he had become even more surly and uncommunicative - and by the time they had finished their meal he was so withdrawn that he barely even acknowledged their presence.
It was one thing to reject her - but to treat her brother so coldly was unforgivable. Claire knew only too well how hard it was going out with David, but Cameron hadn’t even made an effort to talk to him, or to even try to treat him like an equal.
How could I have been so wrong about him?
“Excuse me love! Were you wanting to buy a ticket?” The loud voice of the ticket box attendant woke her from her thoughts, and she realised with a start that there was no-one else in front of her. She stepped up to the window quickly, embarrassed by her inattention.
“I’m so sorry, I’d like three adult tickets please. And could you please arrange for an usher to assist us with the seating - two of us are in wheelchairs.”
The attendant looked over to where David and Cameron were waiting nearby as she pulled out her credit card from her wallet.
“Yes sure, love. Here are your tickets,” he said, as he waved away her offered card, “It’s on us - you go and enjoy yourselves. I’ll send an usher over as soon as I can.”
“Thank you, that’s very kind of you.” she smiled, and put her purse back into her handbag.
“He didn’t let you pay, did he?” Cameron demanded with annoyance when she returned to them, “Doesn’t that kind of attitude insult you?”
Although his comment was like a lighted match thrown into the boiling oil of her emotions, Claire was acutely aware of David’s challenging gaze upon her, and instead of exploding she grasped desperately at her last vestige of self restraint. She took a deep breath and gave Cameron the same sweet smile she’d just given the attendant.
“Oh, not at all, Cameron! How could I be insulted when a man compliments me by giving me free tickets?” she answered with chilling politeness, “If you’re surprised it must be quite a while since you’ve been out with a young woman like me! It happens to us all the time, doesn’t it David?”
David laughed at her obvious irony, but Cameron regarded her with a stony glare. At least we can laugh at ourselves, Cameron! she thought, but I hope to goodness that usher hurries up before I do something that I really regret!
It was only when the lights went down in the theatre as the feature movie began that Claire finally felt able to let out a huge sigh of frustration. Although she was sure that Cameron had only wanted to put as much distance between himself and her and David as possible - she was relieved that he had offered to sit on his own a few rows in front of them when the usher explained that he couldn’t seat the two wheelchairs together.
“I’m so sorry, David.” she whispered, turning to her brother, but he just smiled and gave her his sign for “everything’s okay.”
“I had no idea it was going to be like this . . .” she continued, but David shook his head at her, his eyes twinkling as he clumsily raised his finger to his lips to “shush” her. The movie had begun and he didn’t want to miss any of it.
She smiled with relief - at least Cameron hadn’t upset David - though she wasn’t really surprised. David’s strength and feeling of self worth had always been based solely on God’s complete acceptance and gracious love for him, and he was usually unaffected by people's attitudes.
If only I was more like him . . .she thought, as she leant her head against his shoulder, if only I didn’t let people like Cameron hurt me so much.
The tears she had been fighting all night flooded her eyes, and she quickly wiped them away, hoping that David hadn’t noticed. It had taken every ounce of courage she had to carry on with the evening once she’d seen Cameron’s reaction to David the moment they met - but she was determined to be strong for David’s sake - she was not about to let him down and ruin his night out just because Cameron Alexander had shattered her heart, and all she wanted to do was cry her eyes out.
Why did I ever let myself fall in love with him? she thought despairingly, I should have known I would only get hurt!
Cameron had seemed too good to be true - a committed Christian, with a wonderful personality as well as being undeniably attractive - and he genuinely seemed to care for her. But regardless of the depth of her feelings for Cameron, and her longing to be loved by him, as far as she was concerned, his rejection of David meant that there would never be a future for them.
Bitter disappointment consumed her as she recognised the futility of all her romantic dreams about Cameron. Life had never been easy for her - but at least she had always been content - and she was so involved with David that she’d been able to push her own deep longing for a husband into the background.
Once she’d met Cameron and foolishly fallen head over heels in love with him, she had become aware of just how much she had been missing. Just knowing that she would see him filled her days with anticipation and excitement, and the effect he had on her whenever their eyes met made her feel totally distracted, but wonderfully alive.
She felt like a different person whenever she was with him, and suddenly her life had become rich and promising. And now that she had tasted all of that - a future without any hope of being with Cameron seemed unbearably miserable.
Why, God, why? I prayed about Cameron, I sought your will - is your answer no?
Claire felt shuddering sobs welling up from deep within her, but she was unwilling to give in to the emotions which tried to overwhelm her, and held her breath until her lungs burned.
I won’t let myself cry over him - he’s not worth it! she told herself with grim determination, I just won’t let myself feel anything for him ever again! It’s all over, and I’m just going to get on with life without him just as I always have.
As she slowly let out her breath, Claire tried strengthen her resolve by channelling her pain into anger against Cameron. I don’t want anything to do with a man like him anyway! He let me down, he betrayed me - this is all his fault for being so arrogant to reject me and David so cruelly! If he’d been honest with me this afternoon and admitted that he couldn’t accept someone like David, none of this would have happened.
He just wanted to find out if he could have me if he wanted to . . . so he deceived me into thinking I could trust him, and he didn’t even care about how much this was going to hurt me! No, he’s not worth crying over!
Determined to shut him out of her mind, Claire tried to concentrate on the movie, but the complicated plot of the political thriller that David had chosen was impossible for her to pick up by that point. She closed her eyes and tried to block out the pain in her heart. Shutting out the light was a relief to her aching head, and she could feel the comforting warmth of David’s skin through his shirt as she leant against his shoulder.
But I’ve got David, and at least we’ll always have each other. . .
It seemed like only a few minutes later that she heard Cameron saying her name. Her neck was stiff, and she realised that she was still leaning on David’s shoulder. It was nearly impossible to open her eyes, but when she did she looked around in a daze surprised to see that the lights were on and the theatre was nearly empty.
She stood up quickly, feeling disoriented and embarrassed, “I’m sorry . . .I must have fallen asleep . . .” She had to sit down again just as quickly as a wave of dizziness swept over her.
“Are you okay?” Cameron asked in concern, his deep blue eyes probing her.
“Fine,” she answered, sharply breaking off eyes from his, annoyed with herself for feeling the same tremor inside as she always had when he looked at her, “I just got up too quickly.”
She stood up again, and turned to David, determined that she give Cameron no reason to suspect how utterly miserable she was feeling.
“How was the movie?”
David answered, but she was too tired and preoccupied to work out what he was saying, but it seemed positive enough.
“Good,” she answered, “Let’s go.”
Claire didn’t even try to make conversation on the way home, and felt incredibly relieved when she finally turned into their driveway. Somehow she’d survived the nightmare, and come Monday, she’d carry on as if nothing had ever happened. She was certain that Cameron would share the same desire to forget the whole thing.
Cameron waited by the van while she unloaded David and unlocked the front door for him. After saying goodnight, David drove his chair inside and Claire turned back to Cameron expecting that he would be in as much a hurry for the night to be over as she was.
She was surprised to see him making no move to leave, but sitting back with his arms folded across his chest and glaring at her - his eyes hard and cold. There was no mistaking his anger, and he looked as though he wanted to take issue with her!
How dare he! she thought, After every thing I’ve put up with from him this evening, how dare he look at me as though I have to answer to him!
“I’m sorry I can’t ask you in - but it’s late and I don’t want to disturb my father. I’ll see you Monday.” She met his cold stare, and although her words were polite, she knew her tone made his dismissal clear.
“That’s fine, Claire.” he answered, his voice as unpleasant as hers, “We can talk here. I don’t think you understand - ”
“There’s nothing to talk about, Cameron, I understand perfectly,” she cut him off harshly, “After tonight I now understand everything that I need to about you. You are not the first man I’ve dated who couldn’t handle being out with me and David - and I’m sure you won’t be the last. And now that both of us have made our position clear, there is nothing more to discuss. Goodnight.”
She turned on her heel before he could reply, and went quickly inside, slamming the door behind her. Her breath came in great gulps as she leant back against the cold wood of the door, and she stood trembling with anger and frustration for several minutes until she heard Cameron’s car roar out of the driveway.
Claire longed to be able to just run or scream, to somehow release her pent-up emotions - but she knew that David would be waiting for her, and they had to get through his lengthy night time routine before either of them could go to bed.
Taking a deep breath she went through to David’s room, finding him sitting in his wheelchair in front of his computer. Oh, no! He wants to talk . . . she realised with a sinking heart, wanting nothing more than to bury her raw emotions in the oblivion of sleep.
She went over and turned on his computer, moving his mouthstick into position in front of him. It hurt her deeply that he was trapped inside his useless body, unable to communicate for most of the time, and no matter how tired she was she would never refuse him when he wanted to talk.
“Well, that was an interesting night - wasn’t it, David.” she sighed and threw herself down onto his bed while he set up the computer for the voice synthesis program.
“As disastrous first dates go, I’d say that ranks right up there with the best of them, Claire.” he answered through the computer a few minutes later. Although lacking human warmth, the synthesised voice was amazingly realistic, and Claire was so used to it that to her it was simply her brother’s voice.
“Thanks a lot, David!” she retorted, staring up at the ceiling, “And people say I’m blunt!”
She waited while he typed in his reply, hardly noticing the pauses that necessarily characterised the conversation.
“No, you’re not blunt, Claire - you’re tactless - you still speak before you think. If you thought first and were merely blunt, perhaps you wouldn’t do so much damage.”
Claire sighed, keying in his words was such an effort that David never bothered with small talk but always got straight to the point.
“What exactly are you talking about? What did I say tonight that was tactless?” she demanded, “I nearly killed myself being civil while we were all out . . .” she stopped, noticing David’s curtains move slightly in the breeze, and suddenly realising his window was open, “Oh, did you hear what I just said to Cameron outside?”
“When you delivered your ‘coup de grace’ to him right in front my window? Yes - that was pretty tactless, telling him that he wasn’t the first and certainly wouldn’t be the last. You’ve certainly left no room for doubt that you’re finished with him.”
“But David - you’re as aware as I am of the dreadful way he behaved tonight!” she protested, crushing his pillow between her fists, “And I don’t think you could fault me for anything I did or said while we were out - but you didn’t see the way he was looking at me after you came inside! Despite the disgusting way he treated us - he had the nerve to be angry with me! Well, that pushed me too far, and I finally did say exactly what I was thinking!”
“I’m not surprised he was angry - it was obvious that he had a rotten time tonight. Did you even stop to think about how he was feeling?”
“David! I can’t believe you! Cameron behaves more atrociously than anyone we’ve ever been out with, and yet you tell me I didn’t take his feelings in account!”
“I think you told me Cameron had only been a paraplegic for six or seven years - and I got the distinct impression tonight that he’s never come to terms with his disability. While it might not be such an issue when he’s on his own, I think being with out with us in the van, and with everyone watching was all too much for him. Did you notice the way he reacted when those two women were talking about us on our way to the table?”
“How could I miss it? He looked as though he wanted to turn around and thump them!” Claire replied, remembering it clearly, “But I’m glad he was offended by them - it serves him right - their silly comments were nothing compared to the way he acted towards you tonight, David.”
“Don’t judge him so harshly - he obviously had no idea how to relate to someone like me. I’m really surprised that you didn’t tell him about me before-hand - I thought you would have made sure that he knew about my condition.”
“Of course he knew! That’s why I’m so angry at him, he had no excuse to behave like that!” Claire exploded, her head pounding in confusion at both Cameron’s behaviour and David’s defence of it.
“Everyone at Pelican Point knows all about you, David, I’m proud of you and I talk about you all the time. You helped me write my application for the job, and I’m sure that what we put in about my experience with your condition was one of the main reasons I got the job in the first place.
Cameron told me he’d read my application before they even held the interviews - that’s when he realised our connection with the Muxlows. And I clearly remember the first day I was there telling him all about us getting the van from your rehab centre.”
As she waited for David to respond, Claire screwed her eyes tightly closed, trying to block out the glare of the unshaded light bulb above her. She felt bad enough about everything that had happened without David inferring she was being unfair to Cameron. If it had been anyone one else but David voicing those opinions, she would have ignored them - but she trusted his judgement . . .and the tack he was taking was making her feel uncomfortable.
“You’re right - his actions don’t really make any sense then. If he didn’t like the idea of coming out with us I’d have expected he would have just declined -”
“Exactly!” Claire interjected, as David’s voice continued.
“- instead of going through with something that was so difficult for him to cope with. But when he agreed I bet he didn’t realise that tonight was going to be his first and final examination as far as you were concerned. I wonder how many men expect to be given their marching orders if they don’t manage a one hundred per cent pass on their first date?”
“But David, I know what he’s like now! I’m shocked that he would treat us the way he did - and as far as I’m concerned I’m never going to let him do that to us again, and I don’t need more than one date to make that decision. I can’t believe that you don’t think the way he acted was wrong!” she explained in exasperation.
“After everything you’ve told me about him since you met him, I certainly didn’t expect him to behave the way he did tonight either. But Claire, I’m not judging him on one night’s performance only, like you are. I’m taking into account everything you’ve said about him - about the clear fruit of his faith that you’ve seen in his daily life, the way he relates to his staff and patients . . . the way he’s spoken to you. I’m disappointed that you aren’t taking into account any of those things - but because he didn’t meet your expectations tonight you’ve made your final judgement against him - without even giving him the chance to discuss it with you.”
Claire didn’t answer, and a moment later David continued.
“I’m not giving you a hard time just for the sake of it, Claire, I’ve got an idea of how miserable you’re feeling. But Cameron is not the first man you’ve cut off completely after your first date - this has become a pattern for you. I really thought you were serious about Cameron - but you’re not even giving him a chance. I’d love nothing more than to you see married to a godly man - but how are you ever going to find a husband if you set impossible standards?”
“I was serious about Cameron,” she answered quietly, “but you are the most important person in the world to me, David . . .and I’m not interested in any man who can’t accept that. I’m never going to let anyone come between us, and if I ever do marry I won’t be compromising anything that’s important to me - I’m not going to make the same mistake Mum did. We both know how much that cost.”
“But you are making the same mistake - you’re making exactly the same kind of hasty judgement she did. Except where Mum rushed into marriage, you recklessly push away anyone who tries to get close to you before they even have a chance to get to know what’s important to you. I know how much you prayed and sought God’s will about the possibility of something beginning with Cameron - but I’m fairly confident that you haven’t prayed at all about your decision to finish with him - but that you’ve just reacted emotionally, and without giving it any kind of considered thought.
Even if you’d prayed and slept on your decision instead of tactlessly dumping Cameron in the heat of the moment tonight you’d have spared both of you a lot of grief. If you keep doing this Claire, you’re going to suffer far more than you ever would by risking the consequences of giving someone a fair chance.”
Claire turned her face into the pillow so that he couldn’t see her tears. She knew David was trying to help - but he didn’t really understand at all.
After seeing the way Cameron rejected David, she couldn’t afford to give him the benefit of the doubt. It hurt so much to break things off before they even got started - how could she possibly bear it if they were any more involved with each other? She never wanted to be in the position where she was forced to choose between marriage or her brother.
No, Cameron had let her down where it mattered most - and she knew that her desire for him was already far too great to ignore what had happened tonight and risk giving up any of her anger against him.
David remained silent, and although she realised that he was waiting for her to answer, she had no way of logically explaining her feelings to him. How could he understand that she was already too much in love with Cameron not to call it all off while she still could?
Her thoughts were tumbling over one another in confusion, and she found it harder and harder to make any sense out of them.
After what seemed like only a moment, she realised that she’d fallen asleep. She sat up quickly, horrified to see the hands on David’s clock were already past two o’clock, and David was still sitting in front of the computer.
“Oh David - I’m so sorry! I didn’t even realised I was dropping off. Why didn’t you wake me?”
“Because I could see how exhausted you are - and I already felt bad enough for keeping you up talking. When I saw you’d fallen asleep the last thing I wanted to do was disturb you. Besides, it gave me a chance to catch up Max in Washington - it’s nine in the morning over there so it was a good time to chat.”
“Good - did you want to keep going?”
“No, not tonight - I said I’d send an e-mail tomorrow anyway. Let’s get to bed.”
As Claire went over and turned off the computer she was relieved that her headache had eased slightly, but her heart felt dead within her. She went through their night time routine automatically, willing herself not to go over the events of the day
Once she was lying silently in her own bed, longing for sleep to numb her misery, the tears she’d been fighting all night finally overwhelmed her. She buried her face in her pillow and tried unsuccessfully to stifle the sobs which welled up from deep within her. How could she possibly face going back to work on Monday and having to see Cameron?
© R Brown 2005