During the first week that Sam followed Stella he, quite naturally, fell in love with her. Jealously ate at him. The same question the bank’s trustees had hired him to discover — Who was this man she was meeting? — took on a very personal meaning. While he watched her Sam came to wonder if he was the man she stood and faithfully anticipated. There in the aisles. At the edge of the theater. Out of sight of the screen.
As days turned into weeks Sam’s adoration collapsed into anger. Who was this Stella Franklin to waste so much of his time just waiting for some worthless stiff?! He longed to shake her loose of this wretched love affair, to convince her the jerk would never show. Was he married, a cad, or a mama’s boy?
Sometime during the third week of following Stella from the Pantheon to the Starlight to the Grandview all the movies began to blend into one long nightmarish film noir. But still she waited and still he followed and the bank still paid. Sam hated her. Hated her passivity. Hated her complete lack of attention to the world around her. Hated how she never actually sat down to watch any of the movies. How she always stood first on one foot and then the other. He hated those damn high heels. The blue ones that had to pinch her toes. Hated that fancy coat she wore even in the grimiest movie houses. Hated watching her listen to porno movies in which nothing was ever said. How she never smiled at jokes or cried when the heroes died.
At the end of the fourth week. – thirty-five straight days – two hundred and seventy-seven movies Sam realized that he had followed Stella to every theater in the city at least twice. That was when he decided to quit this job despite the steady money. Quit or he’d loose his temper and slap the dame until she accepted that no one was ever going to take her to the movies.
After the ten o’clock show of “Trail Balloon” Sam walked over and asked Stella outright why she was standing in the aisle out of sight of the screen and only listening to the show. She stared at him with unlit gray eyes, paused, and then replied in the breathy pitch of a girl, “I’m waiting to hear him say it again.”
“My father died last spring. I was in the next room getting up the courage to walk on in. We hadn’t spoken in fifteen years. I heard him say to the nurse, ‘I should tell Stella I love her.’ But when I finally opened the door he was already gone.”