Walter Stevens had finally stacked all his paperwork into organized piles when a whirlwind of brunette curls came barreling through the door. She marched straight up to his teller window and slammed down a crisp white envelope, which sent his neat stacks into disarray.
“Look, Walter!” she exclaimed. “It finally came!”
“Miss Cole,” Walter smiled. “I wasn’t expecting to see you today.”
“The check came in the mail this morning, and I just had to come down to deposit it!” Her eyes were bright with excitement.
Stella Cole was one of the aspiring actresses who moved to Hollywood. She was just shy of her twentieth birthday. She was wearing her cheerful yellow waitress uniform. Her brunette hair was pinned up in the front with a few rebellious pieces escaping to frame her face. Her sparkling eyes and radiant smile drew much attention from gentlemen, and Walter was not an exception.
“This is from that ad for the portable radio?” Walter asked.
“Yes, and it’s my first paycheck as an actress.” Stella practically bounced up and down with excitement. “And I need to transfer it to my mother’s account.”
“All of it?” Walter’s hands fumbled as he rummaged through the papers lying before him.
“Yes,” she said. “She took a great leap of faith by letting me move out here on my own. And this is just one way I can pay her back for it.” Stella looked at him with her eyes radiating goodness and warmth.
“So just the deposit and transfer?” Walter began to feel warmth creeping up his neck as he tried to avoid making eye contact with her.
“I also need to withdraw five dollars,” Stella added. “I think I deserve a little celebration after today.”
Walter cleared his voice before he spoke. “You’ve got a good head on your shoulders and a good heart, Miss Cole.” He mustered the courage to look Stella in the eyes. “Don’t let this city take that away from you.”
Stella sucked in a breath. “What do you mean by that?” She placed her hand on the counter and leaned closer to him.
“All I’m saying is,” he slid the envelope across the counter, “this city has a way of twisting people. And I think it would be a shame if it happened to you.” Their fingers were only inches apart. This time he had no hesitation to look her in the eyes.
As she tore her gaze from Walter, she pulled her hand off the counter. “Right, I, um, I’ll keep that in mind.” She picked up the envelope and turned, heading toward the door. But she stopped midway and looked back at Walter. “Thank you for the advice. I really appreciate it.” And with that she spun herself around and exited the building. She did not see the massive grin she left on Walter’s face.
Once she was outside, Stella turned the envelope over in her hands. Walter’s neat cursive looped across the front, reading “Miss Cole: Hollywood’s Next Big Star.” A grin played on her lips as she stuck the envelope into her pocket.
A couple of days later, on an early Saturday morning, Walter strolled down the streets on his way to the farmers market. Since it was the weekend, he wore more casual attire. Instead of his usual suit and tie, he had on a crisp white polo shirt and a pair of khaki slacks. His hair that usually was perfectly coiffed fell across his forehead, emphasizing his boyishly handsome features. He passed the booths of vendors selling their fresh produce and wares. Walter’s eyes were set with determination as he approached the booth he visited regularly.
“How are you on this fine day, Mr. Milo?” Walter grinned as he walked up.
“I’m pretty swell!” Milo answered. He raised his eyebrows. “You’re here for your regular pickup?
“I guess I’m getting predictable, aren’t I?” he asked.
“Yes.” Milo shook his head as he turned and grabbed a wrapped package from behind the booth. “You’re lucky I saved this for you. The little lady over there just cleaned me out.” He gestured to a woman with her back turned to them.
Walter paid Milo. And he would have left, but something about that lady seemed familiar to him. He took a step closer, and that only confirmed his suspicions. He smiled as he approached Stella.
“I’ve never seen a woman with such an appetite for cheese.” She jumped at Walter’s words. She turned, but once she saw who he was, a look of relief washed over her face.
“I don’t suppose you were looking to buy some?” Stella shifted the two packages in her arms.
“I’ve already secured my rations for the week.” Walter held up his package as evidence. “Best mozzarella cheese you can find.”
“That’s what I’ve heard!” Stella’s eyes widened as she spoke. “I meant to just look around, but when I saw that sign for fresh mozzarella, I couldn’t help myself.”
“Is this your first time at the farmers market?” Walter’s tone was incredulous.
“Yes,” Stella answered as if she were ashamed. “But now that I’ve been introduced to it, I plan to become a regular attendee.” She shook her head as if she were solidifying an oath.
“Well,” Walter took on a teasing voice. “Such a position comes with standards.”
“Oh.” Stella’s smile reached her eyes. “And what are these standards?”
“Well, to start, there’s a certain dress code,” Walter began. “A person should not be too formal in his attire for the market.” He then gestured to his clothes.
“I see.” Stella dramatically narrowed her eyes as she looked him over from head to toe. “Of course, one could argue that you are in violation of that standard.” Stella raised her eyebrows at Walter.
Walter suppressed a smile. “I would argue the contrary, as I believe this is quite a casual outfit.” Stella shook her head and began walking toward him.
“I would like to help you understand the error of your ways, Walter.” Stella now only stood a foot or so away from him. “But I’d rather not have my cheese spoil in the hot sun.”
“I see no reason why we cannot continue this discussion as we walk. Ladies first?” Walter met Stella’s eyes. She joined him, and they began walking side by side. They continued their banter, but internally both wondered how they could find comfort in someone they had just met.
Stella and Walter got even more well acquainted with each other in the following months. Her trips to the bank became more frequent as she was booked for more and more acting jobs. And though both would have been reluctant to admit it, they looked forward to their brief interactions with each other. To Stella, Walter had become a constant in her life. She saw him at least once a week, and he was always the same—friendly, respectable, and encouraging to her, especially on her acting endeavors. To Walter, Stella was a breath of fresh air. She was a genuine and kind person. No one was beneath her just because she had a few acting jobs, and every week, no matter what, she always sent money back home to her mother. Walter was happy to see that the crookedness of Hollywood had not degraded her character. After about four months, Stella came bounding into the bank and up to Walter’s window.
“Oh, Walter! You’ll never believe it!” Stella came bounding up to the counter. “I’m going to be in a film!”
“Miss Cole, that’s wonderful!” Walter congratulated her. “How did this happen?”
“Well, after my last audition, a man approached me. He said that he was a talent agent and that he could help me with my career. He’s the one who got me the audition for the film. Isn’t it all splendid?” Stella said.
“Very much so!” Walter said. “If you don’t mind me asking, what’s this man’s name?
“His name is Andrew Bain.” Walter’s eyes widened slightly at her response, though Stella did not notice.
Walter cleared his throat, preparing to change the subject. “Not to be abrupt, but, Miss Cole, did you have any money to deposit or withdraw?”
“Oh.” Her cheeks began to redden. “I suppose not.”
“Then,” Walter looked at the line that was forming behind Stella, “I should probably start—”
“On second thought,” she interrupted, “could you wire five dollars to my mother’s account?”
“Of course,” Walter smiled as he looked back at Stella. “Anything else?”
“Could you call me Stella instead of Miss Cole?” Her question caught him off guard.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can do that.” Walter began busying himself with rustling through the papers before him.
“Oh.” Stella’s already red cheeks burned brighter. “My apologies. I didn’t mean to overstep—”
“It’s only because referring to you as Miss Cole keeps our interactions professional,” he said, though the blush creeping up his neck proved otherwise.
“I see.” Stella lowered her gaze.
“Here.” Walter handed the receipt of the transfer to her.
She looked back up at him as she took the receipt. “Thank you.” She exited the bank hurriedly. Once she was outside, she looked at the receipt to see if he had written anything. And there in his handwriting were two simple words: “Miss Stella.” She felt a smile spread on her lips.
It was about two months later when Walter first started noticing her dissent. She walked into the bank like she had so many times before. But this time, she was not wearing her casual street clothes or her waitress uniform. She wore a sharp black jacket that matched her black skirt. Her wardrobe had gotten an upgrade after the debut of the film she starred in. Walter noticed that even her gait had changed. Now she took long, confident strides. She had come a long way from the bubbly waitress who had dreamed of acting.
Stella strode up to the counter and pulled out her paycheck from her sleek handbag that hung from her arm.
“I need this deposited into my account,” Stella said.
“Good afternoon to you as well, Miss Stella,” Walter said. He gingerly took the check and began working to deposit it. Usually, he would have asked about her day, but when he did her answers kept getting shorter and shorter.
“Sorry, Walter. I’m in a bit of hurry today.” Stella crossed her arms, glancing at her watch often.
“Would you like a receipt of the deposit?” Walter asked.
“Yes, please,” Stella answered. “Oh, and I also need to transfer some money.”
“To your mother’s account. How much?” Walter had already begun writing.
“Actually, this transfer is for Andrew Bain,” Stella said as Walter looked up at her in confusion. “It’s his fee for being my agent.”
“Oh. Right. How much would you like to transfer to your mother’s account, then?” Walter asked.
Stella was silent for a moment. “Nothing.”
“Nothing?” Walter repeated.
“It’s just that, um,” Stella started fidgeting with her hands. “After the new wardrobe and the agent fee, I don’t have much money left over.” She avoided meeting Walter’s gaze.
“Okay, so just the deposit and transfer to Bain, correct?”
“Correct,” Stella snapped. She left before Walter could hand her the receipt.
The true downfall of Stella Cole happened a few short months later. She starred in a feature film that shot her to full stardom. Suddenly, her face was plastered on every newspaper and magazine cover. The publicity chronicled her lavish spending sprees, attendances at less-than-tasteful parties, and her rumored romance with her agent, who was two decades her senior. Her visits to the bank dwindled and dwindled. She often resorted to having someone else handle her financial affairs. Walter scarcely saw her anymore, and he could not help but long for the days before Stella’s fame. An incident on the final day he saw her would cause him to regard her in a negative light forever.
The bank had just opened when a woman stomped through the front door. She wore large sunglasses and an expensive skirt and jacket. Her hair was pinned up and curled immaculately, not a single hair out of place. Her face was set in almost a permanent look of disapproval. She held onto the arm of a man who looked old enough to be her father, though their body language indicated their relationship was not familial. She and her beau stalked up to Walter’s window. With one hand she reached into her pocket and carelessly dropped a handful of envelopes onto his desk.
“Take care of these, will you?” Her tone was cold and sharp. “I haven’t much time.”
“Ma’am,” Walter began. “I’m the assistant manager of this bank. I’m just looking over these records. My assistant at window three can deposit these for you.”
He gestured to the open till a few feet away.
“You have the records right there. Why can’t you do it? I need them deposited right away.”
“I will, since it’s an urgent matter.” Walter gritted his teeth as he forced out a calm speaking tone. “What name is this account under?”
“Stella Cole,” she answered.
“Stella Cole?” Walter slowly lifted his head. His eyes widened and his mouth opened when he saw her. “My, how times change.”
“Oh.” A look of slight recognition passed over Stella briefly. “Walden, was it?”
“Walter. I helped Miss Stella set up and manage her account when she first moved here.” Walter said.
A shrill laugh from Stella cut him off. “That was a long time ago, Andy. Don’t be jealous.” Stella placed her hand on the man’s chest as he sized up Walter.
“I assume that you’re Andrew Bain.” Walter felt his posture stiffen.
“Yes,” Stella interjected. “And we really need to get going to make it to an important meeting, so if we could just speed things along—”
“Yes, of course,” Walter said as he wrote down a record of the deposits. “Your mother must be quite proud of you, now that you’re a big Hollywood star.”
“I don’t know. I haven’t communicated with her for some time,” Stella said.
“I see.” Walter jotted down and receipt and slid it to Stella without meeting her eyes. “Well, then, if that’s all you needed, have a good day.” His dismissive tone seemed to catch Stella’s attention.
“Thank you,” she said, trying to look at Walter, but his head was lowered. He was already attending to other matters. At that moment, Stella felt any remaining threads of their connection break. The last reminder of her old life was now gone, and a wave of regret washed over her. Unsure of what to do next, she started walking toward the door with Andy trailing behind her. As they left the building, Stella peeked at her receipt. On the back in small cursive there was a note:
Please don’t forget my advice, Miss Cole.