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 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 last month and start college in the Fall. 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.
.... There is more of this story ...