tagMatureOne Hour Photo

One Hour Photo

byAnn Douglas©

Author's Note - the following story takes place in a time before digital photography.

*****

Astrid Wagner checked her small to-do list as she walked out of the Central Avenue Bank. The thirty-nine year old redhead had been running errands all morning and only two items remained. The last was to pick up groceries and would be done on her way home. That just left dropping off two rolls of film to be developed.

Checking her coupon wallet, she found the discount certificate she remembered getting in the mail earlier in the month. Despite the substantial insurance settlement following her husband's fatal accident the year before, Astrid still tried to save money wherever she could. Checking the address on the coupon, she saw that the store was only four blocks over. Dropping it back into her purse, she decided that since it was such a pleasant fall day, to leave her car where it was parked and walk over.

There were two customers ahead of her in line when she entered the store, so Astrid had to wait a few minutes. The black haired young man behind the counter, dressed in a blue T-shirt and jeans, quickly handled the short line and it was soon her turn.

"Welcome to Photo World, how can I help you today?" the slim teenager asked with a smile as Astrid stepped up to the counter.

"I'd like to have these developed, please," she replied, returning his smile.

"I think we can manage that," the young man, whose nametag identified as Alexander, grinned. "Would you like one hour service or would tomorrow be soon enough?"

"Tomorrow would be just fine," Astrid answered, thinking that she never understood why so many people needed to have photos developed in an hour. Especially since the exposed canisters had probably sat in a dresser drawer for the longest time before they ever got around to bringing them in.

"If you'll just fill these out then," Alexander said as he put two envelopes in front of her. "I'll be right back." he added as another customer stepped up to the other end of the counter.

Astrid quickly filled out her name and address, along with the number of prints she wanted. She decided on double copies since both rolls were of her new grandson's baptism and undoubtedly the proud mother and father would want copies as well.

While she waited for Alexander to finish the other transaction, Astrid glanced around the store. In addition to quick developing, the small shop also sold frames, albums, various photo equipment and of course film. What also caught her eye was a 'help wanted' sign near the door that she hadn't noticed when she'd walked in.

"What kind of help are you looking for?" the short haired redhead asked as Alexander came back to take her envelopes.

"Someone to run the developing machine, work the counter, that sort of thing," he answered as he checked the envelope to make sure that all the information was there. "Pretty much the same things I do."

"You need someone with experience then," Astrid asked, "to work the machine I mean?"

"Not really," came his reply. "A few days training and almost anyone could handle it. It's almost idiot-proof."

Alexander paused a second to drop the envelopes into the appropriate storage tray and then rang up the sale for the rolls of film she had also bought. As Astrid handed him a few bills, he asked. "Did you know someone who might be interested?"

"Actually, I though I might be," she said as he handed back the change.

"Really?" Alexander said, a surprise in his tone. "I really didn't expect someone like you to be interested in a job like this."

"Too old to learn?" Astrid asked, more in humor than anything else.

"No, no definitely not," Alexander quickly replied, having taken the quip far more seriously than she'd intended. "It's just that usually we wind up with high school or college kids, basically because of the money if nothing else. I mean it's better than minimum wage, but not exactly going to make anyone live the good life."

"And which are you?" Astrid asked out of curiosity.

"Somewhere in-between," Alexander said. "I graduated high school last year and I'll be starting college in the Spring. Plus my Dad owns the store so if you're really serious, you'll have to talk to him."

Astrid considered it for a moment, asking herself if she was indeed serious. The idea of getting a job had been on her mind for a while now, just not urgently. With her daughter, Karen, married and now a mother, and her son, Karl away at school, the house was quite empty. It wasn't a matter of needing to make money to live on, just the need to have something to do every day. Something more interesting than just watching the soaps and cleaning a house that only needed it once a week.

"Do I need to fill out an application?" she asked, making up her mind.

"Not really, at least not until Dad has a chance to interview you. Do you think you could come back this afternoon, say after two? He'll be in by then."

"That shouldn't be a problem," Astrid replied as she glanced up at the clock on the wall. "I'll see you after two then."

-=-=-=-

With two hours to kill, Astrid decided to have lunch in town rather than make the thirty-minute drive home and then back again. Dayton's Diner was always one of her favorite places to eat and she was sure she'd be able to get a table even at this time of day.

Sitting in a corner booth, enjoying the special of the day, Astrid asked herself one more time if this was something she really wanted to do. After all, it wouldn't be fair to the man who owned the store to take the job if she wasn't really serious about it. Finally, after spending almost an hour thinking about it, she decided that she was very much so.

Sitting in an empty house was driving her crazy, that much was pretty evident. Even more so were the attempts by her friends to make sure that she got through what they referred to as 'her time of grief'. Undoubtedly, a few of them would see her taking this job as a side-effect of that grief, something she wouldn't have done had she been in her right mind.

Yet the truth was, not that any of them would understand it, was that she was more in her right mind now than when Pete was alive. If he hadn't died in that car crash when he did, they would've wound up in divorce court by the end of the year. The marriage had been a sham for the longest time, with Pete playing around on her so openly as not to care anymore. Added to that, his drinking had brought them to a point where they were more roommates than husband and wife.

No, she had hardly been devastated by his death. If anything, she had been reborn by it. Astrid was of course sorry that he'd been killed, if only for the man he once was. But she'd be damned if she was going to spend the rest of her life mourning the man that he'd become. No, in the end, all the good that had come out of their marriage had been the children and a large enough insurance policy as to make a new life possible.

After lunch, she still had a little time to kill and decided to walk off lunch. Glancing at her reflection in the glass display windows along the avenue, Astrid saw a woman just slightly past her prime. She'd always tried to take care of her body and, as a result, weighed only a dozen or so pounds more than she did when she'd graduated high school. Her medium sized breasts were still noticeable, if not as firm as they'd been back then, and she'd also managed to hold the line when it came to other parts of her body. Most of the girls she'd grown up hadn't fared as well with that battle.

The bell on the courthouse clock stuck two o'clock and Astrid headed back to Photo World. It was a short walk, but one in which each step told her she was doing the right thing.

-=-=-=-

Stepping back into the store, Astrid had no problem picking out Alexander's father. In his early fifties, the salt and pepper haired man was an equally handsome older version of his son. Fit and trim, something to be admired in a man of any age, he also sported a two-tone van dyke beard.

"Welcome to Photo World, how can I help you today?" he said, echoing his son's greeting of before.

"Hi, my name is Astrid Wagner," she explained, "I was here a little earlier and I'm interested in the position you have open."

"Oh yes, Alexander told me about you," he said with a warm smile. "I was wondering if maybe you'd come to your senses and decided not to come back."

"Hardly that," Astrid grinned.

"Well if you're still interested, why don't we step into the back office and talk about it," the older man said as he called for his son to come out and take over the counter. "I'm Nicholas Jennings by the way."

"Nice to meet you," Astrid replied as she followed him around the counter and into the back room. As she passed Alexander coming out, they two of them exchanged a smile as he silently wished her good luck.

The back room doubled as both office and storage room, with a number of boxes piled up against the far wall. Nicholas stepped over to a coffee machine atop a filing cabinet and poured himself a cup, offering her one as well. Directing Astrid to the seat on the far side of the desk, Nicholas took his own chair and asked her why she wanted the job.

Repeating the thoughts she had gathered during lunch, Astrid explained that she was a widow and while she didn't need the money, she did need to find something to occupy her time now that her children were grown. She thought the job might be interesting and while she hadn't worked in a number of years, she promised to give it her best effort and learn what she needed to know as soon as possible.

Nicholas said he appreciated her candor and wanted to be just as candid in his response. This was just one of three stores he owned, with plans to open a fourth over the summer. Because of that, his time was split among all three, soon to be four, locations. It was important, therefore, to have people who could run the stores on their own with minimum supervision and handle any little problems that might come up.

He was glad to be able to hire a responsible adult rather than the students the position normally attracted. Not that he hadn't had some fine young men and women work for him in the past, his son of course included in that group, but they tended to be few and far in-between.

It was at that point that Astrid lost track of what exactly Nicholas was saying. She knew it had something to do with the duties the job entailed, but the words had become something of a blur. In the confines of the small office, and with the worry about getting the job out of the way, the redhead suddenly became much more aware of Nicholas Jennings as a man.

During the beginning of the interview, she was sure she'd caught the photo store owner checking her out. His eyes lingering on her legs for just a moment too long. That happened often enough to reassure her that men still found her attractive. Normally, she only gave such looks a cursory notice, but this time, it made her feel quite warm, and not a little wet between her legs.

Rather than feeling embarrassed, after all this was a job interview, Astrid found herself wondering if Nicholas and his wife were still happily married? Did they still rock the sheets, or had their marriage bed grown as cold as hers had been at the end. What kind of fuck was the man sitting across from her?

"Any questions?" Nicholas asked as he concluded the interview.

"Excuse me?" Astrid asked in turn as those final words registered through her idle musing.

"Was there anything you'd like to ask me?" Nicholas repeated.

"I guess the only thing to ask would be when do I start?" she lied as she forced the more inappropriate questions from her head.

"Tomorrow would be soon enough," came the reply.

They emerged from the office a minute later, with Nicholas telling his son that Astrid had the job. He added that he was depending on him to show her the ropes and he knew that Alexander wouldn't let him down.

"Don't worry Dad," the eighteen year old promised. "A week from now she'll be better on the developer than I am."

Astrid was too busy taking a last admiring look at the elder Mr. Jennings to notice that the younger was pretty much doing the same to her.

-=-=-=-

That week came and went and while Astrid would hardly make the claim that she was better on the developer than Alexander, she did become quite skilled at it. She guessed the whole process was idiot-proof after all.

Along the way, and in the weeks that followed, Astrid and Alexander struck up a pretty nice friendship. To the teenager, she seemed more an older sister than a contemporary of his mother and Astrid quickly forget that her co-worker was a year younger than her own son.

The summer passed quickly, and by the time August rolled around, Astrid felt that maybe that boast from the day she'd been hired might now be true after all. On the flip side of the coin, she also now felt a little sad that with the start of school only a month away, she was going to miss working with Alexander.

"Welcome to Photo World, how can I help you today?" Astrid said, having also adopted the standard greeting.

"Is Mr. Jennings in?" the dark haired gentleman asked as he placed a roll of film on the countertop.

"I'm afraid he won't be in until later today," Astrid answered, "I'm sure I can help you though."

"I'd rather Nick develop this," he insisted as his fingers closed defensively around the canister, "he takes care of all of my photos."

Astrid thought the request rather silly, but the first rule of business was making the customer happy. Besides, since it was obvious the man was on a first name basis with the store owner so his request probably not that unusual.

She filled out the envelope and wrote across the top that it was for the personal attention of Nicholas Jennings. Of course, they wouldn't be ready until late this evening when Nicholas came in, she told the customer, but he didn't seem to have a problem with that at all.

A few minutes later, Alexander returned from lunch, escorted by two attractive young ladies. One was Samantha Montgomery, a curvaceous blonde that Alexander had been dating since his junior year. Actually, the two had known each other since grade school, but had only gone from friendship to something more serious in their late teens. The other girl, a brunette almost as well developed, was Doris Sullivan, who had been Samantha's best friend even longer. And by association, she had become Alexander's friend as well.

"Have a good time?" Astrid asked as Alexander lifted a moveable section of the countertop and stepped behind it.

"It was great," Samantha answered for him.

Astrid turned towards Alexander to see if he agreed, but only got a weak smile in response. Perhaps there was a problem between the two, she thought, no relationship was perfect. Hopefully it was only a minor one. Since meeting her earlier in the summer, the redhead had developed a real liking for the younger blonde, and thought she was real good for Alexander. It was a pity that they were going away to different schools next month, something that would put a strain on any relationship.

"We're going to have to hurry if we're going to make the movie, Sam," Doris pointed out as she looked up at the wall clock.

"What film are you going to see?" Astrid asked, turning her attention from Alexander back to the girls.

"Girls Night Out," Samantha replied.

"I've heard that is supposed to be pretty funny," Astrid noted, thinking that she'd also heard that it was somewhat racy as well.

A helpful idea popped into the older woman's head. Turning back to Alexander, she suggested that maybe he'd like to take the rest of the afternoon off and go with the girls to the movie. She would, she assured him, be able to handle the store alone.

"Thanks," Alexander said, "but it's okay. I really didn't want to see that movie anyway."

"Suit yourself," Astrid shrugged, thinking that he was missing the point. It wasn't what was on the screen that mattered as much as who was in the seat next to you.

Samantha leaned over the counter and gave Alexander a quick goodbye kiss, telling him that he was the greatest. Hardly the comment of an angry woman, thought Astrid. Then again, there were plenty of times she didn't understand her own teenagers, so who was she to judge anyone else's.

Wanting to change the subject once the girls left, Astrid mentioned the special order request to Alexander. He said that there were a few customers like that, but didn't think anything of it. As long as they didn't expect instant service, and in this case, they didn't, it was okay.

Figuring he was right, Astrid put the matter from her mind and turned her attention to the backlog of one-hour orders that had piled up during the lunch hour. Between the two of them, it didn't take long to catch up.

Alexander had told her this morning that he had to leave at four, which wasn't a problem since Nicholas was due in at four-thirty. Astrid had momentarily forgotten that when she suggested he leave to go to the movies. That he was working a short day as it was might have been the reason he didn't want to make it any shorter. Any problem between him and Samantha might've been all in her imagination.

-=-=-=-

By the time Alexander left for the day, business had slowed down to a trickle. In fact. they had only one customer come in after he was gone. Although a regular, the woman now standing at the counter was never one of Astrid's favorite people.

"Good afternoon, Monica," Astrid said with a smile. putting her business face before any personal feelings. "How can I help you today?"

"I just need to get a few blow ups made," Monica Brown said as she laid two strips of negatives on the counter. "The first two on this strip and then the second on the other."

Astrid picked up the strips and held them up to the light for a moment to check the numbers. Then she took two negative holders from under the counter and marked off which ones she wanted.

"Did you want 5x7's or 8x10's?"

"5x7's would be fine," Monica replied.

Astrid quickly marked off the appropriate box, glad that she could send this particular customer on her way. Monica, however, didn't seem to be any particular hurry to leave.

"Is Alexander around?" she asked, glancing at the closed door to the back room.

"No, he's already left for the day," Astrid replied. "In fact, I was just getting ready to close up myself."

"How bout Nicholas?" Monica asked, totally missing, or at least ignoring the hint.

"He's not coming in today," Astrid said, hoping that the store owner didn't show up in the next few minutes to prove her a liar.

"Too bad, I was hoping to say hello," the long haired blonde smiled, more than a touch of regret in her tone. "That, is one fine hunk of man," she added, "but then I guess I don't have to tell you that."

Monica's innuendo reminded her once more why she didn't like the sales clerk from the deli across the street. The two women were just about the same age, but the blonde hardly acted it. She constantly dressed like a woman still in her twenties, at least one that was constantly on the prowl. Even today, she had on a tight fitting top that looked at least two sizes too small and thin enough to show off her nipples.

"Well tell Nicholas I was asking about him," Monica said as she turned and strutted out the door.

"Yeah, sure," Astrid said under her breath.

There was little chance that she was even going to mention to Nicholas, when he did show up, that the little tramp had even been asking about him. With all the stories she'd heard from other people in the block's Business Improvement Association, she didn't feel unjustified in applying that nomenclature to her.

Following that first interview with Nicholas, Astrid learned that his was indeed a happy marriage. She had met Mariel Jennings several times and liked her a great deal. If Astrid had anything to say about it, Monica would never have the chance to come between the two Jennings.

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