Alex Ritz-Chen (and even now, that still felt so nice to say) carried the dusty cardboard box of photos down the stairs, the weight clearly more than you’d expect of such a box. “Found it,” he said with a soft grunt as he set it down on the bottom step.
“That’s the last one.” It wasn’t a question, the way Oliver said it, but Alex nodded. Oliver's smile back at him was soft, almost sad, but then it changed to a more firm, pleasant emotion, as if he’d remembered himself. “There’s room enough for all of them, I did the math.” It was as if the moment hadn't happened.
“Good, don’t want all that hard work to go to waste.” Oliver could have said that carrying a box full only of photos down twenty-seven steps was not hard work, but he held his tongue.
Instead, he looked back at what was already on the wall in front of them. The photos were laid out in what could have been some sort of chart, but the pattern was slightly messy, because Alex had wanted it to look less than perfect. It looks better scattered, not everything is a scientific graph.
It was a nice layout; Each photo brought back a nice memory. Most were of the last six years, the happier ones in the last five. Oliver’s eyes followed the pattern, taking in every moment, every memory.
Oliver. Alex. Mark. Oliver, Alex, and Mark. Their friends. Sam and Mags. Joan and Jackson. Caleb and Adam. Everyone was in couples, paired off in every photo. And now they were, too.
Oliver, Alex, and.
He teared up.
And then he froze.
“That one shouldn’t be there,” he said, stiffening slightly as his eyes found a picture out of place. He wiped the tears away when he turned. “That was last month, it should be closer to the stairs. It’s chronological.”
“It doesn’t really matter, it’s fine there.” Alex barely glanced up, digging through the box on the step and starting to lay out the photos.
Oliver shook his head, running a hand through his hair. It dampened his hair; his hand was slick with sweat. “That’s not where it goes. Give me the hammer, I need to move it.”
“It’s attached to the wall, and it’s not a big deal.”
“It has to be perfect!” Oliver snapped, and then shrank back, his hands clenching around the rough fabric of his sweater sleeves. Alex was looking up at him now, his expression turning sympathetic. “I’m sorry,” he said, quietly. “It’s fine.”
Alex put down the photo he had in his hands and got up. He replaced the photo with his husband’s hands, and squeezed them gently before he let go. His hands were warm, thankfully only because of the heat inside the house. “We’ll figure out a way to move it without destroying our wall. Do you want to help me sort through the rest of the pictures? Then you can put them up how you want.”
Oliver took a second to relax, exhaling, before he nodded. “Yeah.” His voice was tight, holding back emotions he didn’t like to admit he had, not even to Alex.
He took one last look at the photo he’d found out of place. Him, Alex. And Mark. Standing together with awfully-thrown-together birthday hats around the worst birthday cake Oliver had ever seen. Mark had offered to buy a new one, but Alex insisted that the one he’d made for him was perfect. And Oliver looked at it again, with the too-drippy icing and the candle puddles and the smushed-in side and the misspelled names from the dizzy stress, and he thought it was perfect, too.