Short Story Fiction
The Bench Part Five:
Paying it Forward

Wesley feels compelled to head back to the bench.

Wesley kept walking. Familiar landmarks were all around. The piano was out in front of the second hand store. A kid was picking at the keys. “Chopsticks” he thought to himself as he walked by.

short story fiction / The Bench part fiveJohn Tuesday/Unsplash

He was about to pass the bakery where he found day old bread and pastries neatly wrapped and waiting for him by the dumpster each night. Wesley decided to go in. He was the only customer. He walked up to the counter. “How may I help you?” Asked the older gentleman wearing a bakers cap.

“I’d like several of those bagels and a few of these muffins. Give me a loaf of that olive bread as well.”

The baker bagged the order and handed it to Wesley. “That’ll be twenty dollars even.”

Wesley handed the man two twenties.

“It was twenty even. You gave me two.”

“Do you still take your day old goods and set them out back by the dumpster?”

“How do you know about that?” Asked the baker.

“I was homeless and on the street up until a few weeks ago. Your baked goods were like manna from heaven. Thank you. The second twenty is for you. It’s the least I can do to repay you.” Wesley smiled and walked out of the store leaving the baker standing with two twenty dollar bills in his hand and a smile on his face.

The bench was less than a block away. He was hoping he would be lucky and the bench would be occupied. As he turned the corner he could see that it was. Now with a little more luck it would be the person he was hoping to meet. As he got closer he could see luck was with him. There sat Sunny wrapped in a dirty blanket, nursing a bottle wrapped in a paper sack. He walked up to the bench and took a seat.

Sunny gave him the once over. She didn’t recognize him. “This is my bench.”

Wesley didn’t pay attention to her remark. “Would you like a bagel or a muffin?” He asked.

Sunny looked at him with distrust. “What do you want from me?” She asked in return.

Wesley handed Sunny a muffin. “You don’t recognize me, do you?” He asked as she reached out and took the offering.

“Should I?”

“You should. It’s me, Wesley.”

Sunny took a more intense look. She took her time and Wesley let her have as much of it as she needed. He knew it came to her when he saw her smile. “Wesley, it is you. Good God you clean up well.”

Wesley smiled. “Yes, it’s me. I got myself sober and a real job.”

“Well I’ll be damned. Good for you. I knew you could do it, but how?”

“You know the piano in front of the second hand store?”

“Oh yes, I know it.”

“Someone heard me playing it and offered me a job. Remember, I told you. The catch was I had to get sober first.”

“I do remember and it looks like you did it. I wish I could do that. Piano players are one thing. No one wants to hire a washed up singer. Especially one hooked on alcohol.”

“You sing? Did I know that?”

“No, I never mentioned it. I was good. Many people compared me to Billie Holiday.”

“Billie Holiday, Really?”

“Yes really. Do you think I’m lying to you?”

“Not at all.”

“I think you do. I can prove it to you.”

“How so?”

“What else you got in that sack?”

Wesley handed Sunny the sack. “It’s all for you.”

Sunny looked in the sack. She looked over at Wesley and smiled like a kid opening a Christmas present. “Really?” She pulled out a bagel and took a bite. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had one of these.”

“Hey Sunny. I have an idea. How would you like to sing for me. I noticed the piano was out in front of the second hand store. How about you sing me a song or two?”

“Oh I don’t know. It’s been over a year since I sang last. I’m not sure if I still have the voice for it. It might be fun to find out though.”

“Great, let’s go.” Wesley got up and Sunny followed after him. As they walked she began to open up about her past and how she missed the music scene. When they got to the piano Wesley took a seat. He stroked a few of the keys. It was still out of tune.

“I’m not sure if this is a good idea,” commented Sunny as she began to have second thoughts.

“I was rusty when I sat down at this piano for the first time,” replied Wesley. “I didn’t let that stop me. Pick a song.”

Sunny picked a classic jazz number she knew well. Wesley knew it and began to play. He played for a full minute before he stopped. Sunny hadn’t sang a note. “Come on Sunny. You can do this.” He started playing again. To his surprise, a smooth and mellow voice he never would have expected came out of Sunny’s mouth. She made it through the whole song. “That felt good. That felt real good.”

“I’m impressed. Pick another?” Suggested Wesley.

When they had finished several people clapped and handed Sunny a few dollars. She couldn’t hold her emotions back and she began to cry. “I hate my life. I hate what I’ve become. I don’t know how to get out of this mess I’m in.”

Wesley understood all too well what Sunny was feeling and now he was more determined than ever to give her a hand. A bag of bread wasn’t going to be enough.

They walked into the second hand store. The owner had heard Sunny singing and offered her a set of new clothes and a clean blanket. “That was some great singing. You could be a pro,” he commented.

“I am,” replied Sunny. She glanced over at Wesley who didn’t hesitate to agree with her.

After they left the store they walked back toward the bench. As they walked they agreed to meet back at the piano the following morning at around noon. The lunch crowd would be walking by and the tips would be more plentiful. “In fact, I’ll come back here in the morning and we’ll get some breakfast first,” suggested Wesley.

Sunny liked the idea. Before they got to the bench they walked past a liquor store. Sunny stopped. “If you want a bottle you’ll have to get it yourself. I’m not stepping foot in there.”

Sunny went into the store and soon came back out with a bottle of sparkling soda. “That’s non alcoholic,” remarked Wesley.

“I know. I want to be at my best for tomorrow,” replied sunny.

Wesley was impressed but dubious about her stamina. When they got to the bench they said their goodbye’s. Wesley promised he would be back bright and early.

© Copyright 2023 by Scott A. Gese All Rights Reserved.

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