Chapter 9:

A Date

Sweet like Honey

Fortunately, the following days weren’t as eventful. If the incident had been uploaded into social media, then I knew nothing about it. I didn’t see or hear anything online, and customers continued visiting Honey Café. There was no noticeable increase or decrease in the flow of patrons from what I could see, and I continued working hard as ever. The days passed by quickly, and before I knew it, the weeks had come and gone.

Shirley Li continued patronizing the store, and by now, the seat at the corner was practically reserved for her.

“She’s becoming a regular like you,” Honey commented to me one day, a mischievous glint in her eyes. “Maybe she’ll end up working for us too one day.”

“I wouldn’t count on that, but that would indeed be a sight to see.”

It was only a brief glimpse, but I still remembered how beautiful Shirley was when she took off her sunglasses and mask. She would certainly be the most amazing poster girl ever for Honey Café – no offense to Honey herself – and draw a lot of customers. Most of them for the wrong reasons, though.

Nah, it was better if she didn’t become the poster girl. It wasn’t that I was possessive and wanted to be the only one to see her real face, but I was aware that Shirley was deliberately keeping a low profile. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have bothered with the disguise. I sensed that she was still vulnerable and not ready to expose herself to the world again. Or at least something along those lines. I couldn’t pretend to understand.

I hadn’t been through what she had, after all. It would be hypocritical to say I empathized when I had never experienced the same suffering she did.

“Anyway, be a dear and bring this to her, would you? She’s been waiting a while.”

“Right away, ma’am.”

Today, Shirley had opted to try out a new honey concoction that Honey herself had personally recommended. Honey caramel chocolate. It was a bit too rich for my taste, but apparently, girls love this sort of beverages. As long as it made us money, I didn’t complain. I brought the steaming mug to Shirley, who lowered her mask, took her sunglasses off, and smiled at me as she accepted it.

Taking a sip, she leaned back in her chair and let out a contented sigh.

“This is great. Send my compliments to the lady boss.”

“I will. I’m sure ma’am will be pleased that you like her new creation.”

“It just sends tingles up my tongue, you know?” Shirley giggled and took another sip. “And it’s warm.”

She placed both hands over the mug and closed her eyes. Breathing in the rich aroma, her lips curled upward blissfully.

“Your café’s drinks are really the best.”

“Thank you for the praise, ma’am. We appreciate it.”

I glanced out of the window and noted the gray skies and newly sprouting leaves. By now, spring was in full bloom. Winter had passed by us, a severe blizzard that hammered home the warning that the specter of climate change continued to loom over our slowly poisoned world, and it was replaced by a dry, languid spring that was completely at odds with the life that was supposedly returning at this time of the year. The temperature was still hovering above zero degree Celsius, and Shirley had opted for a scarf in addition to that bright red jacket of hers today.

Honey caramel chocolate was definitely a good recommendation. I could see the color return to her ghostly pale complexion as she absorbed the heat from the mug, as well as a couple of sips.

“If you don’t mind me offering a recommendation, I would suggest the honey oat congee.” I flipped through the menu to show her a soft rice dish. “It’s supposedly healthy, but the honey makes it sweet.”

“Oh? Sounds good. I’ll have a small bowl then.”

“Coming right up, ma’am.”

The congee normally took thirty to forty minutes to brew, but Bernard was wise enough to set up a pot on perpetual heating mode where we could store a meager amount of congee. Whenever it was near empty, he would top the pot up with a new batch, so as not to keep the customers waiting if they ever wanted a bowl.

Honestly, it was one of my favorite dishes here. It was easy on the stomach, so someone like me who always had digestion problems (maybe from the stress generated by all that studying) would constantly eat it. Bernard knew it too, and he would give me the leftovers. At first, I felt guilty, but he told me that it would be a waste because we weren’t allowed to serve overnight food to customers and so he and Honey ended up throwing away almost everything that had remained by the end of the day. After that, I accepted his kindness. That said, it wasn’t as if I had leftover honey congee everyday. There were days when the dish proved so popular that we ran out before the café closed at night, no matter how much Bernard prepared beforehand. Even so, his habit of making sure we always had a pot of cooked congee ready made it easier for us to serve waiting customers.

Thanks to that foresight, it took me less than five minutes to prepare it. It was one of the first dishes I had learned to do, especially since I had long since mastered the art of preparing porridge when living alone in the city. It was a necessity, especially if I was feeling sick or something.

Stirring the honey and adding oats on top, I then brought it to a waiting Shirley. Placing a spoon alongside the bowl, I presented the meal to her and watched as she tucked in.

“Oh! It really is good. Better than I thought it would be.”

“I know, right?” I grinned and leaned against a railing that separated the tables from the aisles. “That’s why I suggested it. Especially in this weather. It really warms the heart, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah.” Shirley nodded, scooping another spoonful into her mouth. She leaned over thoughtfully, stirring idly before gulping another. “By the way, are you free this weekend?”

“I don’t believe so. Why?”

“I’ve seen you working everyday ever since I started coming here. It’s been like two weeks now, maybe three?”

“I…don’t really have anything else to do, so I just come to work here everyday.”

“Even if that’s the case, you need a day off to rest. I’m pretty sure the labor law stipulates that.”

“We try to get him to take days off, but this kid never listens.” Honey had left her place at the cashier. Given that there were very few customers at this time of the morning, she could afford to relax. She shook her head at me in disapproval. “But he still shows up at the café, claiming that he’s bored and has nothing to do at home.”

“I’ll give him something to do them.”

“Sounds good to me.” Honey nodded and grinned at me. “You have the Saturday off, Junior. No buts. I’ll leave him to you, honey.”


“Huh? Leave me to you? What do you mean? What’s going on?”

I glanced from Shirley to Honey, struggling to comprehend whatever mysterious communication that was being exchanged wordlessly between them.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Shirley flicked her finger at me and beamed. “We’re going on a date this Saturday!”
John Lee H. Wu
Steward McOy