Chapter 8:

Standing by You

Sweet like Honey


As I felt the coffee flow down my hair and over my face, staining the lenses of my glasses, I remained silent. The liquid contents certainly felt warm, far from the “chilled” that Victor Tang claimed it to be.

In other words, he was lying. Lying about everything, whether it was about the coffee being chilled or that he wasn’t here to create trouble. He was causing such a scene here that the whole café had gone silent. The three office ladies chatting several tables away had halted their conversation entirely. An elderly couple had paused in the middle of eating their waffles and tilted their heads to watch. All of the customers had gone quiet and were spectating the fuss.

“What are you looking at?” Victor snapped at them. Then he turned back to me. “And what are you waiting for? Get me a new cup of coffee.”

I could have punched him there and then. I could have kicked him and gotten into a brawl. It wouldn’t be a good idea, for Victor was clearly stronger and fitter than me. I was a skinny and scrawny guy who had spent more time reading and writing than working out, whereas judging from his muscles, Victor had spent some time in the gym or something similar.

It would have ended with him kicking my ass. Nonetheless, I knew that I could still get a punch in or two before he crushed me.

But I didn’t.

I knew that was what he wanted. He was baiting me into throwing the first punch so that he could hit me and call it self-defense. And being a doctor, he could forge medical certificates and fake injuries, claiming that he was the victim and demanding medical compensation from me. He would also ruin the reputation of Honey Café. Even if you had self-proclaimed “alpha” toxic masculinists deriding me for not “standing up for myself” on social media and calling me a beta loser, the vast majority of adults online would condemn me for being unprofessional and allowing emotions to overrule my rationality if I did the opposite and fought back. I might get sympathy, but that was about it. The law wouldn’t be on my side. No matter how I tried to justify it, I would still get slapped with charges of assault.

Victor held all the cards in his hands, and he knew it.

“Boring,” he muttered, when he saw me turn and shuffle away. I was not going to bring him his coffee, but I wasn’t going to fall for his trap either. “What a loser. No guts to even fight back.”

I could, but what would be the point? This wasn’t just about me. It was also the café’s reputation. Customers avoided a café where it was reported that a fight broke out here…where one of the staff was perceived as violent. It didn’t matter what the truth was. The incident would inevitably be exaggerated and twisted on social media until I was made to look like the bad guy. Especially since the other party was a handsome doctor.

People only wanted to believe whatever fitted their narrative. Not the truth.

However, when I arrived at the counter, I found Bernard and not Honey waiting for me. Honey was there, though she had retreated to allow her husband to manage it. Manager Chan reached out and grasped my shoulder, ignoring the coffee that now soaked the fabric of my uniform.

“Go ahead and change into a fresh uniform. Use the shower upstairs.” His eyes narrowed. “And don’t bother giving that customer a new coffee.”

I actually smiled at him. “I wasn’t going to. I don’t think he’s going to get anything else from the café.”

“Good.” Bernard’s eyes flashed with approval, but his jaw was still set in a grim demeanor. He patted me before moving toward Victor. The blond doctor jumped when he saw that a mountain of a man, over a hundred and eighty centimeters tall and packed full of muscles, was standing over him.

“W…what?”

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave, sir.”

“Why?!” Victor sounded like he was whining now. As expected of bullies. When faced with a victim they thought they could walk over, they behaved arrogantly. But now that he was confronted with someone intimidating, he looked as if he was about to wet his pants. All dignity that came with his profession was gone. “I’m a paying customer! What right do you have to kick me out of your café?”

“Someone who walks into my café and harasses my staff is no customer of mine,” Bernard said sternly. “Moreover, you displayed no regard for our coffee. Even if you found it chilled, there was no reason for you to waste it like that and pour it over our staff.”

He then lowered his voice, which rumbled like thunder.

“As much as we value our customers, we also value our staff. Our employees are like family, and you, sir, have just picked on one of my family members. You are not welcome here. Do not worry, we will not charge you for the coffee or the honey apple pie. In exchange, we ask that you leave…before we call the police.”

Victor turned horribly pale, but when he looked around, he was only met with hostile glares or curious gazes from the other customers. He had no allies here, and his position at the city hospital was of no use here. He cursed under his breath and stomped out, leaving his plate of apple pie untouched. I grimaced at the waste, even as I wiped my face and glasses with the towel that Honey had handed me. Even though she urged me to go upstairs and wash the coffee off, I had remained to watch the fun. I wanted to see the dude kicked out of the café like the rat he was.

I might be petty, but at least I was being petty somewhere no one could see. Social media would make me out to be the total victim (assuming someone posted about this online), while completely vilifying Victor. It felt good seeing karma served. I was so glad that Bernard and Honey were on my side. There was nothing more reassuring than seeing Bernard’s broad physique covering my back.

Credit to Victor, he knew when to retreat, and to my disappointment, he didn’t depart with a cliché line about getting back at us or something. Instead, he stalked out and fumed, but before he could reach the exit, I caught sight of a familiar figure interposing herself between him and the glass doors.

Before any of us could react, she threw coffee into Victor’s face, causing him to choke and splutter.

“What the fuck are you doing?!” he screamed.

“Ah, sorry.” Shirley looked up, her face still masked behind sunglasses and disposable fabric. “I’m so clumsy. I didn’t see you there and the cup slipped out of my hands.”

“You clearly did that on purpose! Do you know who I am!?”

“I suppose so. You were bragging so loudly about being a doctor at the city hospital that everyone could hear you.” She shrugged. “Oh, and you’re lucky that I’ve been here for a while already. The coffee has cooled down. Unlike the coffee you poured on the poor waiter earlier, which was clearly still warm, judging from the steam.”

That shut him up for a second, but only a second.

“Do you know how expensive this suit is?” Victor snarled, bearing down on her. “I will have to take it to a professional dry-cleaning service! You had better pay the laundry fee!”

“Then will you perhaps pay the laundering fee for staining our staff’s uniform before you leave?” Bernard asked, his tone deadly. Victor balked at that and stumbled out of the glass doors, disappearing into the crowd while stammering incoherently.

Lowering her sunglasses slightly, Shirley gave me a wink, and I couldn’t help but snicker.

At that moment, I understood why I was so attached to the city. It wasn’t just the lifestyle, or the promise of a better and more exciting life than the dreary days in the countryside. It was also the people who were here with me, and here for me.

Bernard and Honey Chan, who always took care of me, no matter how low I had sunk to. Shirley, who made my heart flutter every time I saw her. I didn’t know why, but I felt vindicated somehow when I saw her take revenge in my stead.

Wiping my face with the towel again, I turned and headed upstairs for a shower.