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Eric's Heroes: Good Will Hunting

Will, lanky and handsome and full of his own brand of exuberant dignity, showed up one day at Beca's Brew. Beca gave him a free drink, and the rest is history. (KOMO Photo)

BOTHEL, Wash. -- It's called Beca's brew, and it's a tiny blue coffee shack in the parking lot of an Arco station in Bothell.

A regular clientele drops by on the way to work every morning, buying everything from lattes to Italian Sodas.

But on this day there was something different going on. At 9 a.m., a woman walked up holding the strings to a dozen blue and green balloons.

"I have balloons for Will today," she said.

Another woman crossed the street with three more balloons, the foil kind with rainbows and writing on them.

A crowd was forming, and a woman named Denise came from the other direction carrying a present in a bag.

"His world is different than ours," she said. "And his smile makes our world a better place."

She was also talking about Will. And she'd never even laid eyes on the man.

There was a group of children on hand, preschoolers, and they all carried cards they'd drawn with crayon.

And there were signs everywhere. "We all love you, Will" said one.

And from one end of the corner all the way to the other, were giant letters stuck into the ground. "Happy Birthday Will" they spelled out.

Beca Nistrian was responsible for all of it. She is a tiny woman of about 4'-10", and she has big plastic rimmed glasses. But don't you dare underestimate her. She has an out-sized heart and a strong will. Beca is one of those amazing people you meet on occasion who simply gets things done.

Four members of the Bothel Police Department showed up. One of them said smiling, "We're honored to be here for Will. It's great."

By now there were thirty or forty people hanging around Beca's. One guy carried a child in his arms.

"The times I've come by, Will's been hanging out," he said, "and I think he's a pretty cool guy."

Someone asked Beca about the man of the hour, and as she described their friendship, she seemed genuinely amazed at the words coming out of her mouth, like she was voicing her thoughts about him for the first time.

"We sit and talk and I'm just in awe of him," she enthused. "He finds the smallest things to be happy about, and I'm over here stressed about minute things. He finds joy in everything."

So who is Will? And why does everybody love him, even people who've never met him?

Well, his full name is Will Tinkham. He is a special needs guy. The specifics of it don't really matter here. Suffice it to say that Will faces challenges in his life. Severe challenges. The kind that can bring parents to their knees.

Either that, or lift them to the sky.

Will, lanky and handsome and full of his own brand of exuberant dignity, showed up one day at Beca's Brew. Beca gave him a free drink. They talked for a while. Beca liked him.

She said to him, "How about this? If you come here every day and you talk to me for an hour or two, you can have any drink you want."

Remembering back, Beca smiles at her good fortune. "So that's how it started," she says. "He started coming every day. A couple hours. Now it's the whole day, which is... awesome."

Will, as it turns out, is a fantastic conversationalist. Unceasingly positive, he loves kicking back in a chair outside the shack, with his legs crossed and a drink that Beca makes him in his hand.

Beca saw something in Will from the beginning. A heart that is pure and true.

When a customer pulls up, Will jumps out of his chair and yells, "Hi! Hello!"

It can be a little difficult to understand Will, but once you get the hang of it, it's not so bad.

"It's great," he says when I ask about hanging out with Beca. "I have fun being here and have a great day and have a good time here. And she pays me a lot of money!"

He smiles slyly, as if he's revealing a secret.

Beca pays Will $15 a day to take out the trash and the recycling, and do odd jobs for her.

Will showed us how he handles the recycling. "Kids don't try this!" he says as we walk with him. "Let the professionals do it, OK?"

He stomps on a gallon milk jug and opens up the recycling bin.

"Look at this recycling stuff!" he marvels, as though he were gazing at a pirate's treasure.

Not long ago, Beca began to see something that troubled her. She noticed how many people would ignore Will when he tried to speak to them.

"One customer was extremely disrespectful of him," she remembers. She gave the person their coffee for free and told them to please never come back.

"He's just a regular person trying to have a conversation... extremely nice, and people ignore him like he has some disease or something all over him."

She wrote something on a local community blog. She told people what a kind, joyous soul Will is, and she mentioned that his birthday was coming up.

The whole thing blew up, and Bothell rose to the occasion in truly dazzling fashion.

And so, on this, Will's 31st birthday, he was led blindfolded down the sidewalk towards his favorite place in the world.

When it was time he pulled it off, and there in front of him were dozens of friends, some that he knew, many that he'd never met.

Everyone cheered and yelled, "Happy Birthday!"

Will didn't make a peep for a long moment. Then he turned and hugged his friend Marsha who'd been leading him by the hand. He looked back at the crowd, overwhelmed a little bit and maybe a little confused. And then he let out a throaty shriek of joy. "THANK YOU GUYS!" He ran straight for the police officers and hugged them all. "Thank you guys! Thank you so much! This is AWESOME!"

Everyone clapped and there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

They sang happy birthday and for a moment Will covered his eyes.

When they finished the song, Will looked at our TV camera and asked, "Is this gonna be on the news?"

Yes, Will. This is going to be on the news.

Nobody who was there will forget it.

Denise, who'd brought a gift, was videotaping the whole thing. You'll forgive her if the pictures are shaky. She was crying the whole time.

Officer Martin said, "I think this is amazing. This is why I moved here."

Will was a blur, moving around and through the crowds, gushing over and over, "This is AWESOME!"

He gave some flowers to Beca and said, "I love you, Beca."

He blew out some candles.

And he got a ride in the police cruiser with the siren blaring.

When he climbed out of the vehicle, all dazed and drunk with joy, he raised his arms into the air like Russell Crowe in Gladiator and shouted, "Dream come true!"

At one point, after talking nonstop for the better part of an hour, Will said, "I'm speechless, guys!" Everybody laughed.

He blew out candles and kept hugging everybody. The crowd stuck around, soaking it all up. It was a heckuva birthday party.

And had you been driving by at that moment on Bothell Way, perhaps from a distance you would have noticed the gathering in the parking lot of the Arco station. Maybe you would have seen the birthday signs.

But how would you have known that in reality, it was a bunch of people remembering how good it feels to take part in another human being's happiness? Someone who's heart is pure and true.

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Editor's Note: "Eric's Heroes" is a weekly series airing every Wednesday on KOMO News in the 6 p.m. newscast. If you have a good story about a good person doing good things for the right reasons, share it with Eric by sending an email to heroes@komonews.com.

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