Chapter 2:

A Façade

Sweet like Honey

I spent the rest of the day serving the other customers. Most of them enjoyed our honey delicacies, which made sense given that it was what our café specialized in. That was the reason why I loved this café in the first place. I still recalled that day seven years ago when I first caught sight of the huge board at the front.

The cute bee mascot flitting above the yellow signboard that spelled Honey Café across. The sign hadn’t changed for the seven years I had patronized it, and it remained the same even after I was employed. Honestly, it felt refreshing to set eyes upon it every time I came here, whether as a customer or as a staff.

“Is our honey apple pie done yet?” One of the customers called out from table seven, craning his neck as he stared at the kitchen. I hurried out with a tray and a plate.

“Yes, it is! I’m coming right now!”

Even as I placed the plate of honey apple pie on the table in front of the customer, I couldn’t help but remember it as the first thing I ordered from Honey Café. That, and a cup of honey tea. I had been feeling stressed after struggling with four classes in the first year of my PhD program, and on my way home, this little café had caught my eye.

I had always been a sucker for cute things, and when I saw the bee mascot, I had naturally gravitated toward it. I remembered even asking Manager Bernard Chan if they sold a plush version of it, and he had given me a strange stare.

“A…plush for the bee outside?”

“Yeah. It looks cute, so…I, uh, thought maybe it would be cool to have a plush or a keychain or something.”

“Hmm. No, we don’t. I never thought about it. Anyway, one honey apple pie and one honey tea to go, correct?”

“Yeah, that’s right. Thank you.”

That was our first interaction. I didn’t blame Manager Chan for being slightly weirded out. Most of his customers wanted food and beverages, and I was probably the only one who asked for…a character good.

As a side note, I preferred to eat at home, which was why I had ordered a takeout instead of dining at the café. We provided bags for that, which had that cute honey bee drawn across its white surface, flitting over brightly colored flowers. Right now, I was taking out one of those bags from a stack at the counter when a lady ordered takeaway. Unfolding it, I smiled at the almost childish picture spread across the white fabric, and straightened it on the counter, and then bowed apologetically to the customer.

“I apologize, ma’am. It’ll be another three minutes before your pie is done.”

Returning my attention to the takeaway bag, I felt my chest soften. We still produced them, and the design – I found out later – was done by none other than the manager’s wife, Honey Chan herself.

“I drew the bees, you know,” she had told me cheerfully about a couple of years after I had established myself as a regular. Whenever I was depressed, I would drop by the café to cheer myself up with a mug of honey tea and perhaps one of their honey delicacies. They made the best pastries, and with my sweet tooth, I found their honey flavors tremendously appealing.

“That’s awesome!”

“Thank you, dear.” Honey had giggled back then as she patted the stack of bags she had put out for takeaways. “I didn’t think anyone would like it so much. I just…designed it on a whim, you know? I always liked honey, and honey is made by bees.”

She had leaned in closer, glancing around before dropping her voice into a conspiratorial whisper. “My husband named this café after me. When we were younger, I had told him that my dream was to run a café of our own, and after we were married, he immediately quit his job and invested all of his savings into this place.”

She had stepped back and winked. “Never regretted it ever since…it makes me happy to see customers like you enjoying our honey products. Have to spread the love of honey, you know?”

“Yeah,” I had agreed with a fervent nod. Then I poked the takeaway bag that I had kept. “Have you considered selling the bee mascot as a plush? Or a keychain? You know, like, uh, character goods?”

“Honestly? I’ve never considered it. It might be a good idea, though. I’ll talk to my husband about it.” Honey had glanced at my bag and giggled. “You collect quite a bit of…what do you call them? Character merchandise?”

“A bit too much,” I had admitted as I studied the anime keychains and Pocket Monster plushies hanging from the zippers on my bag. “But I think it’ll make for good marketing.”

“Hmm. I’ll think about it.”

That wasn’t all. I had even presented them a concept art I had made, of a character mascot. Honey Chan had taken a look at it and looked impressed, despite the raw nature of the work.

“Oh, I didn’t know you could draw. That’s really cool. It looks like a manga character. Are you into those things?”

“Yeah. Here’s an idea, if you ever need one. Maybe we can use it for marketing and promotion. Or expand into character goods eventually.”

“Thank you.” Honey had accepted the drawing and slotted it into a…drawer, of all places. “I’ll see if I can add this to the front. She’s really cute. Having a plush of her and the bee mascot is a good idea.”

In the end, they had never gotten around to it. But I held on to that dream of owning a bee plush.

Packing a box of freshly baked honey chicken pie into one of those character-themed bags, I handed it to an impatiently waiting customer. Fortunately, she wasn’t Karen enough to complain about the length of time and demand to see the manager. Not that Bernard would entertain such nonsense. He was pretty strict with these things, and most people were intimidated by his large stature. With his burly muscles, dark hair and neatly trimmed beard and mustache, he resembled more a bouncer than a café owner. No one dared to tell him that to his face, though.

Honey, in contrast, was a petite lady with shoulder-length blond hair, and her swift movements reminded me of a bee flitting from one flower to another. Interesting imagery, now that I thought about it. The husband-and-wife pair contrasted each other nicely, one being the face of Honey Café and the other doing the heavy lifting at the back.

I wondered where I fitted into this. Sometimes, I felt out of place. mechanically moving my hands, I prepared another cup of coffee, though my mind strayed toward the far future.

Bernard was right. I couldn’t possibly stay here for the long term. I wasn’t made out for customer service. Even after a month, I still couldn’t get the coffee right. I mechanically emptied the jug, added a few drops of honey and creamer into it without conscious thought. It had become muscle memory at this point, but I often found myself mentally distracted when performing menial tasks. Maybe that was why I was bad at it.

Trying not to sigh, I brought the mug to the customer, plastering on another smile and accepting the wad of bills. Mentally calculating, I grabbed a few coins from the cash register and gave her the change. The faces came and go, none of them registering in my face.


“You all right?”

I blinked at the question. At first, I thought it was Honey, but it was the customer in front of me. I realized that she was the same one I saw this morning, with the red and white jacket, red cap, sunglasses and disposable mask covering her face. I nodded and smiled, inwardly noting that she must have spent the whole day here. It was already evening.

“Yeah. I hope you liked the honey coffee and cake. Like I said, it’s on the house, so you don’t have to pay.”

She had her purse out, and I hastily waved my hands when I remembered what I told her this morning.

“Thank you. But I ordered a few more items that are definitely not on the house.” I could hear the mischief in her voice, even though her features were mostly concealed. She then peered at me. “But never mind me. You don’t look so good.”

“I don’t?” I shook my head and smiled wryly. “I guess it has been a long day.”

“Maybe,” she conceded, but she gestured toward my face. “But I recognize that smile. It’s the kind that says that everything is not all right.”

My “smile” froze. “I’m sorry? What do you mean?”

“Like I said, I know that smile.” The lady leaned against the counter, pulling down her mask and revealing her mouth, which was curled upward. Rigid. Professional. Not quite touching her eyes. To my surprise, I found myself recalling my reflection in the mirror in the dressing room. “It’s the same one I teach myself to make every morning.”