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Saving Stephan

She watches curiously as cars rush by. Sky scrapers tower like alien sentinels on every corner and people walking with coffees held out at right angles, and it was just so hot. How strange, she thought. People wearing shorts or sweat pants and dress shirts for business in virtual meetings and acting as crazy as COVID. Women strolled by chattering into cell phones and she watched lashes thick as brushes flicker on pale cheeks.

She scoots across the street when she spots him shuffling five blocks down. Pants were held up with one hand while the other pushs a shopping cart, his gray-brown drapings serving as outerwear that camouflaged his torso and head. He paused to peel off a layer of jackets, revealing what probably used to be some form of nice dress shirt. God knows how he wore all that in this weather.

Jake. She calls out to him but he doesn’t look back, just tips back the hoodie pulled down over his brows and turned slightly to accept the cup she handed over. Got you coffee, just like you like it. And she just walks on past that ageless figure.

About a minute later, she’s caught up from behind by the scuffle of footfall moving a little too quickly on the sidewalk.
Hey, wait up! Turning, she sees an old colleague.
What are you doing around here?
She noticed the suit. Nice.Tie, too. And she nods at him.
Yeah, good to see you, too.
They walked a half block at her pace, him puffing.

You know, he gasps, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen you ‘round here. If you’d just slow down a sec.
The pace slows.
How come you never drop by the office and see your old friends?
A sideways glance doesn’t buy the pleasantries.

Uh, curious though about that old man over there, I’ve caught you four times now.
He’s panting again.
Cause I come at the same time to that cafe there. He waves dismissively as if she was paying attention to something besides cars and skyscrapers.

He’s resting his hands on his knees and breathing a bit too hard, so she waits.
Don’t ask me why I’m always here at this time, but I always am. And I notice you usually get something or other like a bagel or maybe a coffee and then hand it all over.

The pace picks up again, but his curiosity’s driving him faster than the Beemers screaming down the avenue, so he keeps up this time.
What’s up? You know the bum? Doesn’t look right in the head if you ask me. Just kind of snatches the cup.

She sighs and stops and shoves her hands in pockets.
Ah, it’s just an agreement I’ve made with my soul.
What, feed the homeless?
No. just Jake.
Jake. So where did you get the name from? She can tell he’s buying time to catch his breath again.
She says, I don’t know, just an old movie I watched once. He reminds me of somebody that looked like he had a great deal of dignity at one time or another. He’s holding onto it as hard as he can.

He snorts. Yeah. While holding up his pants.
She turns sharply, don’t knock it, she says.

Okay really, what are you doing? I mean, what are you playing at? He nudges at her sorta playfully. Wanna come up and hang out with some of your old buds from work?
Sorry, can’t do that.
Right. Okay. So, um, what are you hoping? I mean, the guy’s not even nice. Why do you even do it?
Look, she says, nice to see you and all, but I gotta go. Say hi to the folks at the office.

Sometime a few weeks later, they meet again on the street and start talking and he asks her again. Why do you keep handing people coffee? You trying to change the world by getting everyone a cafeine fix? Nope. It’s not my job to change anyone, let alone Jake. She looks right at him this time. Look, I do it because I can do it.

Ah. Ever think he might just prefer the change?
What, so he can go and buy his own coffee? She turns and gazes back down the road with it’s rushing cars and skyscrapers. Yeah. Pretty much anyone can get a coffee.

Then she just comes out with it.
Ever talk to your soul?
Haha he says, and averts his eyes.
Huh. She turns away to leave and then throws a comment over her shoulder. Neglect is death by a thousand snubs.

He watches her stroll off toward the sunset. A curious sensation was creeping over him, like waking up from a dream you can’t quite remember but you know was good. A cup of kindness, he thinks. And then suddenly Stephan did feel good, just like he’d just had an epiphany.

And his world was getting lighter and lighter.