Chapter 6:

Meeting You Again

Sweet like Honey


The next morning, I noticed Shirley’s figure by the corner again. She waved at me, and I approached her wearily. Even so, my chest felt lighter at the sight of her.

“Your order today, ma’am?” I bowed slightly. “Sorry, but I don’t think we can afford to give you free coffee everyday.”

“That’s totally fine. I’ll pay for it.” Shirley hesitated and studied me, though her expression was muffled under her mask and sunglasses. As usual. “You’re wearing that smile again.”

My face froze, but I tried not to let a crack show in my façade. “That smile?”

“The fake smile. Like a mask you put on to trick everyone into thinking everything is all right.” Her brows knitted above those huge dark lenses. “But everything is clearly far from all right.”

Astute, but I didn’t confirm it. Instead, I moved to change the topic.

“Um, I did some digging yesterday, and it seems like you’re an ex-idol? That’s really cool!”

I winced after blurting that out. It appeared that was a bad idea, especially since Shirley’s posture turned rigid.

“You looked me up?” She asked frostily. I grimaced.

“A little. Sorry, I was curious. I have never heard of you before, so I thought I should at least, uh, correct my ignorance. I apologize if I was being intrusive.”

“Not at all.” Shirley shrugged. “If anything, it’s probably my fault. It wouldn’t have even occurred to you to look me up if I didn’t act like an arrogant idiot and took it for granted that everyone knows me.” It was her turn to cringe. “I can’t believe I asked you such a stupid question. ‘You don’t know me?’ Well, duh. You saw me when I was drinking with my mask off and didn’t say anything, of course you wouldn’t.”

“Well, I still don’t know much, other than what the news says. And to be frank, most of them just read like tabloid nonsense to me.” I scratched my head. “So I can’t say I really understand this whole idol business.”

Shirley peered at me. “You have no interest in idols, do you?”

“Not really, no. They were never my kind of thing.”

“Hmm.” Shirley sighed and leaned back, though she sounded more pleased than exasperated.

“Can I ask you a question, though?”

“Whether I answer it or not depends on what kind of question you ask,” Shirley said guardedly. “What is it?”

“Did you ever sing any opening or ending songs for an anime series? Did you have the chance to work as a voice actress?”

Shirley stared at me for a few seconds before she burst out laughing. She guffawed so hard that she bent over and ended up drawing glares from the other customers. Even Honey Chan was taken aback, looking as if she was at a loss. Bernard stepped out of the kitchen to check things out, saw that I was standing next to the laughing Shirley, smirked, and then disappeared back in.

What the hell was that smirk about?

“Of all the questions to ask…” Shirley gasped, wheezing as she struggled to catch her breath. She let out a giggle again before she clamped a hand over her mask. “I never expected that.”

“What were you expecting?” I asked, amazed at how hard one could laugh. I was secretly relieved she didn’t knock the entire table over and break the cutlery. In fact, I was standing by and holding a hand out to grab it if it looked like she would.

“Normally, wouldn’t…people ask for an autograph or something? I don’t know. A photo? Actually, I thought you might ask me to pretend to be your girlfriend so that you can show off in front of your friends.”

“Why the hell would I do that?” I asked, aghast that she would even think that.

“I…probably read too much manhua. Forget I said anything.” Shirley sucked in a deep breath and stemmed her laughter. “Anyway, to answer your question, I have never been a voice actress. But I do believe my group has performed a song for an animation. Um, was it The Girl Upstairs? We sang Sweet Like Honey, which was the opening song for it. I’ll admit that I didn’t really watch it. I should, though.”

She stirred her coffee wistfully, staring into space. I watched, fascinated, recalling her caramel-colored eyes, as warm as honey, whenever she took her sunglasses off.

“After all…I have plenty of time and nothing to do.”

“Huh?”

“No, nothing.” Shirley shook her head and shooed me away. “Anyway, enough about me. Take care of the other customers. I’m not the only one patronizing your café.”

“Y…yeah.”

There was something about her tone that I was concerned about. She didn’t sound very happy about being free right now, even though such carefree days would be paradise for me. I guess even an ex-idol like her had to worry about earning money and paying the bills. I wasn’t sure, but I had heard from an anime that idols didn’t actually earn much. Most of the revenue in concerts and merchandise went to the agency, sponsors and other supporting organizations, and the idol herself earns a tiny fraction of all of that.

It was…brutal. Perhaps that was why she retired?

Well, it wasn’t my place to speculate. I collected her now empty plate and brought it to the return area before proceeding to wash the dishes. By now, we had accumulated quite a few plates and mugs, and I needed to get them all clean before the next batch of customers arrived. Pulling on long gloves, I began scrubbing them mechanically, rinsing them and putting them in a tray to drip dry. I turned on the blower to increase the rate that they would dry, and then headed out when Honey Chan called me.

“Junior! Table two’s order! A plate of honey toasted waffles!”

“Let’s get waffling then,” I said, earning an annoyed glance from Bernard as he passed me the plate of freshly toasted waffles. Damn, I could smell the aroma of honey. It was making my mouth water. I had to remind myself that this was for the customers, not me.

Table two was now occupied by a couple of office ladies in straight business skirts and starched blouses. They grinned when they caught sight of their waffles, and I bowed politely as I set it in front of them.

“Early lunch, ma’ams?” I asked politely. They nodded.

“Yeah, we got here early to beat the rush!” The one wearing a gray business suit said.

“We saw the photos of the pastries and drinks here on Instant Pound, and we thought we would try it out,” her friend, who was wearing blue, added. She held up her smartphone. “There’s an idol we’re following on Instant Pound, and she posts these really delicious pictures!”

“The other day, she was talking about honey apple pie. And then the honey cheese cake…”

“That’s a good idea! Let’s have that for dessert!”

“I’ll take note of your order,” I said, scribbling in my notepad and heading back to the kitchen to inform Bernard. He poked his head out, looking bemused.

“Hmm, seems like someone’s praising us on social media. I’m flattered.”

“Oh, honey…” Honey shook her head. “You shouldn’t. You know your honey pastries are the best in the city…no, the country.”

“Thank you, dear. That means a lot, coming from you.”

“Aw…”

I tried not to watch the couple flirt and trudged back out to check if the customers needed anything else. An elderly gentleman waved me over, but it turned out he simply needed a refill for his water, which I complied without any hesitation. A few were already getting ready to leave, and I rushed to the counter to await them as they paid their bills.

Even as they left, there were more customers heading in the opposite direction. The lunch crunch hour was upon us, and I braced myself.

But even as I steeled my resolve, nothing could have prepared me when I caught sight of one particularly outstanding guy who swaggered into our café. My blood drained from my face when I recognized those charismatic features. That slick blond hair, bright blue eyes and handsome complexion – a flawless combination that I hadn’t seen since my high school days.

“What’s up, Junior?” Victor Tang asked as he ran a hand through his hair, his lips curling into an oily smirk. “It’s been a long while.”

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