The Cameo

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Dalton Walsh sighed as he slumped back into his chair in his office at Smithman Accounting. Heíd been working on the Statler account for the last two hours and he couldnít fit in all of the deductions Walter Statler was trying to claim. The man was an ass and telling him that he wasnít going to get the return he was expecting wasnít going to be pleasant. He wished that heíd passed this account on to someone else.

Tanner Scott would have been the right man for Walter Statler. Tanner had come to Smithman almost three years ago fresh out of college with a brand new CPA. Heíd impressed the shit out of the partners and landed the very account that Dalton had been waiting for nearly six months to get. It had pissed Dalton off to hear that he wasnít getting the account. Then to hear that a new CPA had gotten it instead nearly made him explode. Heíd thought about putting in his resignation. Instead heíd decided to make Tanner Scottís life miserable.

Heíd set out on his task as quickly as he could. His pranks had been childish, he knew, but he wasnít going to stop. He stole things from Tannerís desk, destroyed the lunches that Tanner placed in the company refrigerator and even hid his wallet twice. He was surprised when Tanner got a new wallet without finding his old one both times.

Tanner wasnít all bad though. He was known for helping out when anyone needed a hand with an account. At first Dalton had thought Tanner was only trying to steal the accounts from those he helped, but it was soon clear that Tanner wasnít really like that. Dalton supposed that Tanner hadnít stolen his account. It was actually quite clear that Tanner had been awarded the account simply because heíd impressed Smithman.

Dalton had learned a bit about Tanner Scott during a camping trip heíd taken with his friend, Pete. Pete, Dalton, Tanner and a man named Phil that Dalton hadnít known at all went to Peteís cabin in the hills for a weekend. From listening to conversations between Pete and Tanner, Dalton had learned that Tanner was the only child of a disabled couple. Heíd worked to put himself through college while taking care of his parents. Now that he was working at Smithman he was paying their bills and trying to keep them both out of an institution.

Dalton had also learned that Tanner was gay on that camping trip. The guy had watched Dalton take a shower. Sure heíd left the bathroom door open and he supposed heíd put on a show for Tanner once heíd noticed the guy was watching him. In fact, heíd gotten a thrill out of being watched. The fact that it made Tanner hot to watch was even better.

Still, after the camping trip heíd left Tanner alone. He hadnít gone out of his way to be nice to the guy, but heíd stopped taking his pencils. Not that it mattered much, because Tanner stopped leaving pencils, erasers, paperclips or his stapler on his desk when he left for the day. Dalton would watch him pack it all up in his briefcase before he left for the day. He also never went anywhere near the companyís kitchen. He left for lunch every day.

He hadnít gone out of his way to be nice to Tanner because he didnít believe it would have done any good. The damage had been done and there was likely no way to repair it. Still, he wasnít exactly ashamed of himself for the things heíd done. At least he hadnít hurt the guy.

Giving up on Mr. Statlerís file for the day, he got up from the desk and grabbed his coat. He wondered what his mother was having for dinner as he walked out of the office and to the elevator. Heíd been thinking about his younger brother, Sebastian, on and off all day long. The kid had been stabbed by one of his so-called friends not so long ago. The event had rocked Dalton. Until heíd learned that Sebastianís wounds werenít fatal heíd been sure he was about to lose his brother.

Now he tried to have dinner with his mother and brother at least twice a week. He never called ahead of these visits. His mother was always happy to have him over any time, and Dalton loved being with them. He decided that after a shower he would drive over to the house and surprise them.

Twenty minutes later he was pulling his car into the underground garage below his apartment building. He loved living in the building because he was probably the youngest guy there. Most of the other tenants were elderly and very quiet. They also stayed out of his business which was good because he had his own secrets to keep from being discovered.

As he got off the elevator on his floor he saw something on the floor in front of Mrs. Klineís door. She lived across the hall from him and heíd helped her with her groceries a time or two. She was a nice old woman who always seemed to be smiling for some reason or another.

He walked over and picked up the object on the floor. He recognized it as the cameo that she always wore on a choker around her neck. She must have dropped it on her way into the apartment some time that day. He was sure heíd have noticed it on the floor that morning. Checking his watch and thinking of his mother and brother, he knocked on her door lightly. Seconds later she was opening it to smile at him.

Mrs. Kline was in her seventies but still had all of her faculties well within her grasp. She was as sharp as a young woman with the experience of a lifetime that always seemed to show in her pale blue eyes. She always had a soft smile for everyone and if she could manage to keep you long enough there was always a baked good straight from her small kitchen to sample.

"Young Dalton," she said with one of those soft smiles as she greeted him at the door.

"Hello, Mrs. Kline," he said, stepping back a bit to be polite. He held up the cameo. "I found this on the floor in front of your door. I remembered that you always wear it and I thought youíd be looking for it."

"Oh dear," she said, putting her hand to the choker at her neck. "Thank you so much, Dalton. I hadnít realized Iíd lost it."

"Glad I could help," he said, smiling at her as he handed the cameo to her.

"This one is very special to me," she said. "Thereís quite a story behind this cameo. Would you come in and share a cup of coffee with me, Dalton?"

He thought about his plans for the evening and almost declined. Then he thought about the fact that Mrs. Kline rarely had visitors and changed his mind. What kind of gentlemen would he have been if he'd declined her invitation? "Sure," he said with a smile as she stepped aside to allow him to enter her apartment. "That would be great. Thank you."

"Oh, thank you, Dalton, for your assistance with my cameo," she said, smiling again. "If I had lost this one I donít know what I would have done. As I said this one is very special to me."

"You also said there was a story behind it," he said before he could stop himself. Dalton's curiosity would eventually kill him; he was sure, like the proverbial cat.

She studied him for a long moment with a strange look on her face before she brightened and extended her arm toward the dining table. "Well come along then, dear. Iíll tell you all about it over coffee."

"Thank you," he said, smiling at her again. "I think Iíd like that."

As she busied herself in the kitchen with the coffee, Dalton sat down at the dining table and looked around her apartment. It wasnít much different than his. There were only three rooms. The kitchen was only separated from the dining area by a bar. His was covered with file folders and other things that he brought home from work to try and keep up. Hers was set up to display photographs of the people she loved. There were pictures of many men and women. He wondered about children when he didnít see any displayed.

The large bay window in the living room was dressed with Victorian lace curtains and what looked like red velvet drapes. They were pulled back and tied with golden cords. The sofa and arm chairs were upholstered with a deep crimson fabric that offset the deep cherry wood that had been used to construct the coffee table. More pictures could be found there, but he couldnít see the subjects from his vantage point.

She came around the bar carrying a porcelain tray with a small pot of coffee and two cups. A matching sugar bowl and cream cup sat in front of the pot. He was about to get up and offer to carry it for her when she sat it down on the table. She handed Dalton a cup before she sat across from him, taking her own.

"I have a collection of cameos," she informed him as she sipped from her cup. "I get a new one just about every holiday from my nieces and nephews." She indicated the one on the table that he had returned to her. "This one is very old and came from a very dear friend."

"Itís very beautiful," he replied as he looked at it closer.

"Yes," she said, smiling. "Cameos are very beautiful indeed. I love them dearly, and I love them more when they have a sentimental association like this one."

"It looks like an antique," he said.

"Oh Iím sure it does," she said with laughter in her voice. "As I said itís very old. I was just a girl of twenty when I received this gift. That was almost sixty years ago. It was given to me by my dearest friend who lived next door. Our husbands were both away with the war on and we were quite alone.

"She and I spent many days having coffee and playing cards at this very table," she continued. "We shared much in common and one of our common passions was the collecting of cameos."

He listened as she described the state of the world at that time. It was very hard for him to imagine what it would be like for the love of his life to be off fighting a war that he couldnít understand. Of course, he would have probably been the one to be off at war in that time, with his wife at home like Mrs. Kline and her friend. The idea of it made his heart ache.

She told him about the card games they had and the talks they got into while her friendís children were in school. She had a faraway look in her eyes as she talked. It was almost a wistful expression. He could almost see them sitting at the table as she talked.

For the first year of their friendship theyíd spent their afternoons playing cards at the table and talking about the state of the war and how much they feared for their husbandsí safety. As the year turned into two they began to talk about the war a little less. A kind of apprehensive acceptance had settled over the pair of wives.

"The years have been kind to me, but I canít truthfully remember how the beginning of our special relationship started," she said, looking into my eyes. "You must understand that with our husbands fighting in the war we were forced to comfort each other quite often."

She went on to tell him how a special bond had been forged between the two women and how she helped to prepare meals for her friendís children. She grew to love William and Joseph Scott very much and began to feel almost like they were her own children as the years went by and their husbands were still fighting.

They received mail from their husbands but it grew more and more erratic after the first year. When the War Department contacted Mrs. Kline, Winifred, to tell her that her husband had been killed it was Bonnie, her friend, that held her in comforting arms and let her cry for the man sheíd loved.

When she reached this point in her story she selected a photograph from the coffee table and brought it to the table. Her husband had been a very handsome man with dark hair and movie star features. Charlie and Winifred had loved each other with all of their hearts and the war had taken him from her forever.

Bonnie became more and more worried for her husband, Charles, as the grief settled over Winifred. When mail stopped coming it was Winifredís turn to comfort Bonnie and tell her not to expect the worst when she was already convinced that Bonnie would soon be in her position. It was heartbreaking for her but she did her best to be strong for Bonnie.

When the same man from the War Department came to see Bonnie, Winifred had been there with her and held her as she cried over her lost husband. She didnít come right out and say that one thing led to another, but there was no mistaking the fact that comfort turned to passion in the weeks that passed. She had no reservations in telling Dalton that they loved each other very much.

She told him how crushed sheíd been when Bonnie had to take the children and move to Seattle to stay with her parents. The two had written letters back and forth for the next several years. They saw each other only twice after that. The last time had been when Bonnie had written that her youngest son, Joseph, was dying. The young man was succumbing to Cancer and it wouldnít be long. Heíd expressed the desire to see Winifred, and sheíd gone to Seattle to see him the day before he died.

The two women comforted each other as Winifred stayed on in Seattle for a month to be with Bonnie and William. It was the day that Winifred was to return to Bryarwood that Bonnie had given her the cameo that Dalton had returned to her. That had been the last time sheíd seen Bonnie because an accident claimed her life and left Winifred devastated.

Letters back and forth between Winifred and William began and continued well into his adult life. She never got to visit him and his new wife, but he sent photos of their wedding. A year later she got the first pictures of Williamís son, Danforth. The last picture she showed Dalton nearly took his breath away. Danforth Scott looked very much like his son, and he knew his son very well. His son was Tanner Scott.

What Winifred didnít know was that Danforth and his wife had moved back to Bryarwood. Tannerís parents had been disabled shortly after he was born. Dalton had learned all of this from his friend Pete, who was also very close to Tanner. He felt even more like an ass after hearing all of this from Winifred.

When her tale ended and the coffee had been consumed he thanked her for a fine evening and went home to think about Tanner and the things that heíd done to him. It was suddenly very important that he make it up to him somehow. He just didnít know how to do it. He thought about it all night long as he tossed and turned in his bed.

When morning finally came, he was exhausted, but he knew what to do now. He stopped at a little store on his way to work that morning. When he got there, Tanner was already at his desk. He watched him as he worked on a file for a few minutes before walking over to stand in front of his desk. Tanner looked up at him with apprehension and Dalton felt like an ass.

"I brought you something," Dalton said in a voice that was just above a whisper as he handed him seven packages of pencils. "I want to apologize for the way Iíve treated you since you came to work here."

"Thank you," he said, taking the pencils from him. His eyes told him that he was not convinced that he wasnít about to pull some kind of prank though. He knew he still had work to do in making things up to him.

"Iíd like to invite you to dinner tomorrow night, Tanner," he said. "Itíll be my way of saying that Iím sorry. Thereís someone I would like for you to meet."

"Why would I have dinner with you after the way youíve treated me?" he asked, and Dalton winced. He was right though.

"All I can say is that Iím sorry," he replied. "I would really love it if you would come to dinner tomorrow night, Tanner. I understand that you have responsibilities at home, but if you could I promise you that Iíll be on my best behavior."

He was silent for a few minutes as he studied him. He felt uncomfortable under his eyes but he stood where he was and waited for whatever would come next. Dalton was sure Tanner would have something hateful to say to him and he knew he deserved it.

"Iím probably going to regret this, but Iíll come," he said after a long moment.

"Great," Dalton said with a smile. He handed Tanner a piece of paper with his address on it. "Iíll see you at six tomorrow night."

"Sure, whatever," he said, putting the piece of paper on his desk and going back to his file.

Dalton had dinner with Mom and Sebastian that night. They were both happy to see him. He told them all about Mrs. Kline, Tanner Scott and the things heíd done to him in the past. He was prepared for whatever they had to say about what heíd done.

"Dalton, you werenít raised to be so mean to people," his mother said. She sat at the head of the table and looked at him with disappointed eyes. Her copper hair was pulled back in a bun and her hazel eyes held his. "Why would you do something like that?"

"I did it because I was jealous," he admitted. "But Iím trying to make it up to him now."

"By taking him to dinner with Mrs. Kline?" Sebastian asked.

"Right," he replied. "Winifred doesnít know that heís in town. She doesnít know what happened to his parents either. I thought that if I could bring the two of them together it would make both of them very happy."

"Does Tanner know about Mrs. Kline?" his mother asked.

"I donít know," he said after a moment of thought. "If not then Iím sure Winifred can fill him in on their connection."

They talked back and forth about what he had planned all through dinner. His mother made it a point to tell him that she was disappointed in his actions as he prepared to leave later. He promised her that he was going to do everything in his power to make it up to Tanner.

Dalton invited Winifred to dinner at his apartment the next morning. She happily accepted. All that was left was to go to work and then shop for what he wanted to cook afterward. He also had to make sure that Tanner was coming. He hoped that putting them together would be a good thing.

At work he said hello to Tanner but left him alone after that. As Dalton got the Statler account taken care of another plan formed in his mind. As he was taking a stack of files back to Rickmanís office he stopped at Tannerís desk.

"Donít leave for lunch today," Dalton said as he got to him. "Iíll order out and have it delivered."

"All right," he said without looking at him. "What time?"

"Iíll order it when I get back to my office and have it delivered at noon," he said. "We can eat in my office or I can just bring you your food."

"What are you ordering?" he asked, looking up for the first time since Dalton had come to stand in front of his desk.

"Chinese," he replied.

"In that case Iíll like whatever you order," he said. "How much money do you need?"

"My treat," he said quickly. "Do you want me to bring the food to you?"

"Sure," he said, going back to what he was working on.

Dalton called in the order when he got back to his office and then got to work on another account. He had it nearly finished when the delivery boy came in with the bags of food. Dalton paid him and gave him a healthy tip before going through the bags and collecting what heíd ordered for Tanner.

"Thanks," Tanner said when Dalton sat the bag on his desk. "Smells good."

"Yeah," he replied. "Youíre still coming tonight, right?"

"Iíll be there," he said without looking at him. "Iím curious about what you have planned."

"Nope," he said with a smile even though he wouldnít see it. "Iím not telling. Youíll see though. I promise it wonít be anything that you wonít like."

He didnít say anything so Dalton went back to his office to eat his lunch and finish up with the file heíd been working on. As the day progressed he got more and more excited about dinner. He couldnít wait for Winifred to see Tanner. He looked so much like the photograph of Danforth that Dalton was sure sheíd know him on sight.

After work he went to the supermarket and quickly gathered the ingredients he needed for dinner. He was making Chicken Alfredo and he wanted it to be perfect. The garlic bread was the only thing that was already prepared when he bought it.

He was just getting the bread out of the oven when Tanner arrived. Dalton let him in and he looked around before telling him that he had a nice apartment. Dalton thanked him and asked him to have a seat at the table while he got things ready. He had put a bottle of white wine on the table in a bucket of ice to keep it chilled. He suggested that Tanner have a glass.

When Winifred arrived Dalton was putting the food on the table. He let her in and was surprised when she hugged him and told him that dinner smelled great. He thanked her and then introduced her to Tanner.

"Winifred Kline, this is Tanner Scott," he said, watching her carefully. "I work with him."

"Mr. Scott," she said, shaking his hand. "You look like someone I havenít met but know through his father and grandmother."

"Your name sounds familiar," Tanner said, looking from Dalton to Winifred and back.

"Is your fatherís name Danforth?" she asked with a smile as she looked at him.

"Yes, maíam," he said, looking at her closely.

"I was a very good friend of your great grandmother," she said. "Letís sit down and get acquainted."

They sat down and Dalton let them talk for a while. She was very upset to learn about Danforth and his wife, but she was so happy to be sitting at the table with Tanner that she thanked Dalton for bringing them together four times. He simply smiled at her each time.

"You have no idea how wonderful this is for me, Dalton," she said, smiling brightly. "Iíve wondered about Danforth and his family for years. Now Iím sitting here with his son."

"I confess I knew that Tanner was the son of Danforth when you showed me the picture in your apartment," he said. "Forgive me for not telling you what I was up to."

"Thereís nothing to forgive, dear," she said. "This has been a wonderful evening."

She invited Tanner back to her apartment after asking Dalton if that was all right. He assured her that he had brought them together to get to know each other. He was very happy with the result. Tanner had seemed happy enough when he left, and Winifred was thrilled.

Dalton didnít see either of them for the rest of the night. He didnít even see Tanner at work when he got there. He was usually there before him, but Dalton thought that maybe heíd had a later night than usual. He was surprised when Tanner showed up in his office with a bag of great smelling Chinese food at noon though.

"Thank you very much for last night, Dalton," he said as he handed the bag to him. "I donít know why you did it, but Iíll never forget it. My father was very happy to learn that Iíd met Winifred, and sheíll be having dinner at our house this evening."

"Iím glad," Dalton said. "Join me for lunch?"

"Sure," he said, sitting down in the chair in front of my desk.

Maybe he really had done something good this time. He just hoped that he and Tanner could be friends now.