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Photographing Memory: A Friends To Lovers Romance by Bates, Aiden (1)

1

Alex yawned and stood up as the trolley rattled toward Harvard Avenue. Allston at night wasn’t substantially different from Allston during the day. The same people swarmed the same businesses: bars, take-out joints, convenience stores, and casual restaurants.

A few places had signs in the window proudly proclaiming that they accepted dining plan cards from the two closest universities, which just made Alex shake his head. Did the servers take tips in dining plan points? He didn’t think he wanted to know.

He slipped off of the trolley and headed toward Alcott Street. Friday night in Allston was always an adventure. Every bar had a line, and a cluster of smokers outside the door besides. Alex trudged past them all.

He thought about stopping in for a drink, but waiting in line would be a pain. It was already ten o’clock, and this was the earliest he’d gone home all week. He only wanted his bed.

Once he got away from Harvard Avenue and its honking cars and blinking lights, he felt better. The neighborhood didn’t get substantially quieter, but at least the number of cars decreased. Every neighborhood in Boston had its own unique character, and Allston was the student ghetto.

Families did live in Allston, but they didn’t get priority. No one was going to show up about a noise complaint before two in the morning, and a person would have to be pretty egregious to fall afoul of open-container laws.

He’d seen a guy urinating on a wall, only to hear a family in a basement apartment complaining about the guy peeing in their open window. The cops hadn’t done anything about it, and the landlord had charged the family to get the mess cleaned up. It was Allston, and you had to plan for these things.

Alex watched as a pack of young men in matching white baseball caps staggered down the street, shouting “Whoo!” Must be nice.

He chased the bitter, resentful thought out of his head at once. He’d had to work hard to stay in school, it was true, but he’d probably have done the same thing if he hadn’t been on a scholarship. He was a hard worker, and that was just all there was to it.

Maybe when he’d been a little kid, too young to know what life was really like, he might have been more carefree. By the time he’d moved to Texas, work was everything. That wasn’t going to change now.

“Yo, ’Lex!”

A clear, familiar voice called out to him from up the street. He stopped and turned to see one of his housemates, Devon, jogging up Harvard Avenue toward him. Devon still wore his black-and-white-checked pants from work, and he carried his knife case over his back.

“Wait up, I’ll walk with you!”

A few passers-by cast them curious looks, but not unduly so. People ran into other people they knew all the time around here. Allston was basically a poorly-built, dirty village. Alex would be glad to have Devon’s company on the long walk back to Lower Allston.

“How was work?” he asked, once Devon got close enough.

Devon groaned. “They called me in early. I’ve been on my feet since noon, bro. I don’t mind getting the extra pay, you know that, but eleven hours on my feet is a hell of a long shift. And you know they don’t do breaks.”

“You guys should unionize.” Alex snorted as they darted across Cambridge Street. “I mean, really, that’s just obscene. And it’s got to be causing you some serious RSIs.”

Devon flinched with his whole body, blocking his head with both hands. “Are you insane? You can’t even say that word in my presence! I can’t be sure they don’t have my phone bugged or something.”

He straightened up and shook his head. “Besides, you’re one to talk. We both know you started work at, what, eight this morning?”

Alex shook his head. “Six-thirty, but it’s month-end reporting. And it’s my first time with these clients since the promotion. I can’t just put it off and say to hell with it. The bank showed a lot of faith in me when they promoted me. I can’t just tell them to go to hell.”

“You can, actually. That’s the great thing about free will. But no one’s saying you should.

“I’m just saying that a day that lasts that long isn’t good for you either, and you’ve been pulling shifts like that for a month now.” Devon raised an eyebrow. “Or don’t bankers have unions?”

“I don’t think we do, actually.” Alex scratched his head. “And besides, it’s just for a little while. I’m not on my feet all day, either. It’s hardly physical labor. I’m sitting on my butt, like we do in finance.”

“That just makes it worse. Your brain is going to leak out your ears from the boredom, and you’ll have to go out on disability.” Devon nudged him with his elbow. “What is it you do there, anyway? Do they just lock you away in a vault, counting gold coins? Is there a dragon?”

Alex laughed as they climbed the steps to the old footbridge. Once upon a time, the line between Allston and Lower Allston had been nebulous. Then someone had decided to build a highway, a straight line from Seattle to Boston, and the straight-line path cut right through the old neighborhood. Rather than just assign the severed part of Allston to Cambridge, which seemed to make more sense to Alex, the City of Boston had built a footbridge over the Turnpike and called it done.

The footbridge was an eyesore. It had a high, chain-link fence on both sides of it to deter suicide, and it the concrete was stained and painted with graffiti. Much of the graffiti involved male genitalia. No one knew for sure why. It just did.

It was narrow, and Alex always expected the old bridge to crumble onto the traffic below every time he crossed over. It hadn’t yet, but there was a first time for everything. Alex wasn’t positive it would be the first time, and he suspected the city of “benign neglect” so they could save on power-washing the graffiti.

Tonight, both Alex and Devon made it over to Lower Allston without a problem. This side of the bridge had fewer stores and restaurants, and more industrial-type businesses. That probably had something to do with why they’d been able to get the place so cheaply, but Alex wasn’t in a position to complain.

They didn’t drink the groundwater here, so the presence of the occasional pharmaceutical plant or industrial plating operation shouldn’t be a problem. Alex would just pretend the air was clean, or that traffic from the Pike was somehow just as bad.

They passed three parties on the way from the footbridge to the house they shared with two other friends. One party, which had spilled out onto the porch and seemed to be full of young women, called out to the pair as they passed by. The women, on their own, weren’t the best inducement for either Alex or Devon.

The girls were all probably perfectly nice, but they used language that indicated they needed a bigger pool to choose from than the party offered, and neither Alex nor Devon would make suitable partners for them. They were both gay, and would only disappoint their hostesses in that regard.

Besides which, they were both so tired they’d probably fall asleep with their heads in the punch bowl.

They finally turned down Alcott Street and stumbled up to their house. It was easy to pick out from the rest. The giant rainbow flag hanging from the front was a big clue.

Devon had his key out already. That was good, because Alex couldn’t have found it if his life depended on it. He stumbled in and made a beeline for the kitchen. He knew he should probably eat something. He wasn’t up for much.

Devon followed him into the kitchen. “If you make yourself a packet of ramen, I swear to god I’m going to beat you with a spoon.”

Alex scoffed. “Shut up; you’re making mac and cheese from a box.”

They dug through pots and pans on neatly-labeled separate shelves in a pantry that hadn’t been redesigned since the house was built in 1900, then retreated to the elderly electric stove to make their hyper-processed food. Neither of them had to take much time to make their dinner, which was part of the appeal of food items like this.

They shuffled into the living room to eat. Alex didn’t know about Devon, but he could barely stand up. Finding piles of junk on the couch and coffee table, to the extent that he couldn’t sit down, pissed him off.

Devon shrugged. He put his food down, picked the stuff up, and dropped it onto the floor. It lay in a heap, a heap that made Alex’s skin crawl, but they could both sit down.

“Sorry,” Devon said, in a tone that plainly declared he wasn’t sorry at all. “I totally get that you’re not into the heap, I do, but they shouldn’t have left their crap on the couch in the first place.”

Alex took a deep breath, and then he crouched over his bowl of ramen. It was the only way to eat the noodles. Otherwise, they’d splash greasy broth all over his dress shirt. Alex had eaten a lot of ramen in his day, and not always by choice. He knew the drill.

“It’s cool.” He dug into his food. “They should know better than to leave their shit piled all over the common area.” He poked at one garish, pepto-pink item with his toe. “Is that a boa?”

“I think it is.” Devon stared at the item for a moment. “I don’t want to know.”

“To each his own.” Alex wolfed down the rest of his meal and leaned back in his seat. He wanted to go upstairs and retreat to his bedroom, but he was too tired to move. He’d get the energy, but for now he just needed to rest.

“Is this what you thought it would be like?” Devon asked him. “Life after graduation, I mean. Me, I knew what I was getting into. The culinary arts lifestyle is a problem.

“But you, man; guys don’t go to college so they can still live like undergrads when they get out. You majored in finance, bro! You work in a bank!”

Alex closed his eyes. If someone brought him a blanket, he could sleep right where he was. But Myles and Jason would come home eventually, and he’d probably have trouble getting to sleep after that.

“I do work in a bank. And I could probably afford my own place, maybe, if I really stretched myself. But I wouldn’t be able to send any money home, and I wouldn’t be able to save anything. And if something went wrong, well, I’d be out on the street faster than you can say Allston.”

“I hear that.” Devon nodded. “So you’re being frugal.”

“And careful.” Alex grinned. “Very, very careful. It’s not forever, though.

“Eventually I’ll settle in at the bank, and I’ll get to a stable point where I’m making good money, and I’m confident I’m secure. And then it’ll be okay, you know? I can work more normal hours, and maybe have a life.”

“How long has it been since you had a date, anyway?” Devon yawned and gave a little laugh. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not charting your sex life. Would that be weird?”

“It would be weird.” Alex side-eyed his friend. “I get that a guy gives up a certain amount of privacy when he shares a house with other people, but it would still be weird.”

“Just thought I’d check.” Devon shrugged. “Anyway, I just wondered, because I can’t remember the last time you brought someone home.”

Alex stared at the ceiling. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d brought someone home either. “Was it Chad?” he asked, scratching his chin.

“That was your sophomore year!” Devon’s outrage woke him up a little. “Seriously?”

“I’ve had the occasional hookup here and there, but yeah. I’ve been too busy. It seemed irresponsible.” Alex squirmed on the secondhand couch. A spring poked back at him, reminding him of the thing’s age.

“Okay, that’s just sad. First of all, you can’t date guys named Chad. Just no.

“Second, you’re going to turn into a drone, a robot. You’re going to fall down dead at your desk, and they’re going to autopsy you, and they’re going to find that damn bank’s logo stamped onto your heart and lungs. We’re going to find you a man, Alex.”

Alex closed his eyes again. “Devon, I don’t have time for dating. I don’t want to … I’m not a workaholic. I like my job, sure, but I don’t want to be my job.”

He let his eyes fly open. “But there’s time, you know? Time for that stuff down the road.”

“Yeah, sure, when you’re bald and your back is so hairy you can’t tell if you’re wearing a sweater or not.” Devon gave him an old-fashioned look. “Come on. If you don’t want to take the time to go out and chase down a guy, I’ll fix you up with someone.”

“Oh lord, Devon. A setup?” Alex slouched down even further, trying to lose himself in the couch cushions. “That’s even worse than expecting to find your soulmate on Grindr.”

“I’m not saying you have to marry the guy. Just meet him. I think you’re going to hit it off just fine.”

“Fine. Sure.” Alex yawned. “Why not. So long as I get to sleep through all the preparations, okay?” He got up, picked up his bowl, and headed back into the kitchen. “Just send me the details, where and when.”

He was going to regret this. He didn’t even have to think too hard about it as he washed his dishes and put them in the drainer. Letting Devon fix him up with a buddy was probably the dumbest thing he’d ever done.

But what the hell? His life could use a little variety. He probably wouldn’t get fired for going out on one date, would he?

His stomach gave an uncomfortable twist. He guessed he’d find out. Maybe he could still call this thing off…