Chapter 7:

Professionalism

Sweet like Honey


“Welcome, sir.” I clamped down on the icy fear that gripped my heart and presented a smile and a bow. Victor scoffed when he saw that.

“Enough with that nonsense,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “It’s creepy seeing you behave like that.”

I shrugged, but maintained my professional façade. “Would you like to dine here, or do you wish to order a takeaway?”

“I told you to cut it out.” Victor snorted. Then he strutted toward a table and plopped himself down, dragging his chair out with a screech. “I’ll make myself comfortable here.”

“Please make yourself at home,” I said and whipped out a notepad. “Have you decided on your order, or would you like a menu, sir?”

“Like I said, stop that. It’s creepy.”

“Would you like me to handle your orders instead, sir?” Honey asked, stepping forward. Victor ogled her for a moment before waving her away.

“No, no. It’s fine. Sorry, I was just messing with Junior. It’s been a while since I’ve seen him. Just friendly banter, and I’m not used to seeing him act all deferentially and all.” He leered at me. “I mean, he has always been polite and humble, so I shouldn’t be surprised, but he definitely has become a lot more submissive.”

Honey’s brow rose and she glanced at me worriedly, but I shook her head and sent her a look. It’s okay.

“If you say so,” she whispered and retreated back to the counter. Even so, she kept her eyes on the front.

“Don’t worry. I’m not here to create trouble.” Victor chuckled and leaned back. “I was just curious, that’s all.”

I didn’t say anything, and he sighed.

“You’re a really boring person, Junior. I mean, you have always been boring, but I thought you would grow out of it, you know? Always with your nose stuck in your books. Reading all day, trapped in your little bubble of fiction and make-believe. And then we all heard that you ran to the city, to some big university, to pursue a PhD. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. The only thing you were good at was studying. You sucked at sports, you sucked at socializing, and you sucked at chasing girls. All you did was read. I guess you were going to make a career out of it…but even then, you failed!”

He burst out laughing. I simply waited patiently, tuning out his words and ready to jot down his order. Victor laughed a bit more before shaking his head in disappointment.

“What are you, a robot?”

“No, I’m simply a waiter of Honey Café, sir.”

“Boring.” He tapped his foot against the ground irritably. “Get me a cup of coffee. What was it, honey coffee?”

“Right away, sir.”

There were more customers arriving, and I was more than happy to scramble away from him to serve them once I had placed his order. Even so, when I brought his honey coffee to him, he reached out to grab my arm.

“Hang on. Add a plate of honey apple pie to the order.”

“Right away, sir.”

“And don’t leave so quickly. We haven’t had the opportunity to catch up.”

“I apologize, sir, but I’m working right now. There are other customers waiting.”

“C’mon. I’m a customer too.” Victor snickered, his grip tightening on my arm. He relaxed in his seat and grinned, looking around. “I couldn’t believe it at first, you know. That you were working here. If I hadn’t seen that photo on Instant Pound, I would have thought someone was joking.”

“Instant Pound?” I asked, my façade finally cracking for a slight moment.

“That’s right. There’s this celebrity posting about your café on her Instant Pound account, and I happened to see a couple of photos. One of them displayed you in the background – not very noticeable, given how invisible your aura is. You haven’t changed at all since high school, still always nothing more than a background character. Still, I recognized you right away.”

“I’m flattered that you remember me even after so long,” I remarked dryly. It had been fifteen years, after all. Even I had forgotten how Victor had looked like.

“Of course I would! Who would ever forget you?” Victor tugged on my arm. “C’mon, take a seat and have a chat with me. I’m sure your boss wouldn’t mind.”

“I’m sorry, but it’s rush hour. Maybe afterward, when there are less customers…”

“I don’t have time afterward.” Victor’s tone turned sharp. “Unlike you, I work a proper job, you know. Oh, you probably haven’t heard, being a hermit who’s all holed up in your cave somewhere, but I’ve just been transferred to the main city hospital as a promotion. I’m actually saving people’s lives instead of just acting like a servant and running around like an errand boy, ferrying people their drinks. Once I’ve received my medical certificate of specialization, I’ll be earning three times the amount I make now. After my promotion.”

He then paused and smirked. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to make you jealous.”

“I’m not jealous, sir. But I would really appreciate it if you let go of me because I need to serve the other customers.” I yanked my arm out and walked away, but he wasn’t done yet.

“You know, there was a time when I thought you would actually accomplish something. You always had good grades, and I was both surprised and amazed when I heard you got your masters and were moving on to do a PhD. I thought maybe you might prove us all wrong.” Then he guffawed. “But turns out we’re right. Once a loser, always a loser. Sorry, four-eyed nerd. You can try to reach for the sky all you want, but as you found out, we’re in completely different leagues. Sometimes, you can’t help it. It’s just the way you were born, right?”

I never said anything, but I could see him scowling from the corner of my eye. There was no point arguing with him. This wasn’t about “standing up” for myself or being a beta loser. As an adult, at some point in time, I just realized how…meaningless this was. I was working here as an employee of Honey Café, and pettily responding to insults would just demonstrate how incredibly unprofessional I was. Not only that, it would also reflect badly on Honey Café, and on the owners.

Honey glanced at me worriedly and gestured for me to wait for her to finish serving an elderly couple, but Bernard had already put out the plate of honey apple pie meant for Victor. Given how busy Honey was and how packed the café was, I didn’t have much of a choice. I also didn’t want Honey to suffer any harassment or derisive comments from Victor, who I suspected would vent his arrogance on the next vulnerable target instead of…restraining himself.

“Here you go, sir. Please enjoy.”

I placed the plate of honey apple pie in front of Victor, along with a fork. He glanced at it with a half-smile before raising his mug to sip his honey coffee. Then, with a deliberate, slow drawl, he waved at me.

“Wait. Come here.”

“What is it, sir?”

“Do you always serve your customers cold coffee? Is your signature coffee meant to be served chilled or something?”

I blinked, taken aback, but then my training took over and I bowed my head apologetically.

“Sorry, sir. I will bring you a new cup of coffee immediately.”

“No need for that.” Victor scoffed, tipping his mug. He shook his head, amused. “But still…you haven’t changed, have you? Always so gullible and listening to whatever other people tell you.”

I must have a puzzled expression, for he continued. “I mean, take this as an example. I tell you that the coffee is cold, and you believe me straight away without checking.”

“Are you lying then, sir?”

“That’s what I meant.” Victor jabbed a finger in my direction. “Find out for yourself. Check the coffee.”

“Huh?” I gaped at him. “How do I…?”

“Here, let me help you.”

With a wide grin, Victor stood up and raised his mug. Tipping his hand, he poured the contents of an almost full cup of honey coffee over my head.

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