Chapter 13:

Peace Breaker

Sweet like Honey

Normal life resumed after that…if you could call my daily routine as a café waiter normal. I mean, why wouldn’t it be?

Not according to my parents, anyway. But whatever, it was my life. Not theirs.

Taking a deep breath, I put on my professional smile and strode into the open. Adjusting my glasses and then righting my apron, I went through the checklist and ensured that the equipment was all working fine. Honey was opening up the store, and already a couple of early birds had gathered to be the first ones in.

As usual, Shirley arrived only an hour or so after the store opened. I was delighted to see her again, and I waved at her as she set down on her usual seat at the corner. Though it took me some time to approach her because I had to serve other customers, when I finally made my way to her table, I saw that she was watching videos on her smartphone.

“Don’t mind if I use the café’s wi-fi?” she asked as she looked up with a mischievous grin. I smiled back.

“Not at all. The café’s wi-fi is open for the customers’ use.”

Shirley smirked and held up her smartphone screen for me to see. “I took your advice and started watching The Girl Upstairs. It’s actually better than I thought. I used to think anime’s for children, but this is surprisingly mature.”

“Anime’s not solely for children. It’s like, uh, television. There are genres dedicated to an adult audience.”

“Consider me enlightened.” Shirley flipped her phone about and resumed watching. “There are 22 episodes uploaded onto the Biribiri channel. The last two are scheduled for next week, but I’ve binge-watching the rest of them since last night. Let me try to finish them by today.”

“Each episode is short, less than fifteen minutes each even if you include the opening and ending song. And I recommend you watch the opening songs. The animation is stellar, and your singing is incredible.”

“It wasn’t just me, though.” Shirley leaned back, resting her phone on the table. “My entire group sang it together. The four of us. Those were the days.”

Even with her sunglasses covering her eyes, I could tell that she had them closed. “I wonder how they’re doing now.”

“I’m sure they’re doing fine, though they will probably struggle without you.”

Shirley snorted. “Definitely not. My sales were declining, and the agency has just hired a new batch of performers. Promising newbies…and I’m over thirty now. I’m past my prime. The only way forward for me is…downhill. Idols don’t have a long shelf life, after all. We’re like…shooting stars. We blaze brightly for a short moment before we fade out into the void. They are perfectly fine without me. I told you they were looking for excuses to get rid of me, right? I’m pretty much near my expiry date. It was only a matter of time.”

She chuckled when she caught sight of my troubled expression.

“No, don’t worry about it. It’s not your fault. It’s inevitable. Anyway, I have a lot of free time on my hands here, and I have more savings than I know what to do with. It’s been a great ride, all things considered. I’m just glad it’s over now.”

I remembered how much she enjoyed singing in the karaoke bar yesterday. Was she really okay with this? I was certain she desperately wished to continue singing for everybody, but because of her circumstances, it would be difficult for her to continue.

“How about another agency?”

“Like I said, at my age, it’s difficult for any agency to offer me contracts. Besides, I’m done. I don’t want to be an idol again.”


“Anyway, a cup of honey milk, please. And honey pineapple pie. Just a slice, not the whole thing.”

“Understood. Coming right up.”

She raised her smartphone just as I was about to turn away. “In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy. Thanks for recommending me this series. And let me know if there are other anime series you think I should watch. I’m starting to get a feel for them. I understand why you can be obsessed with them now.”

“Welcome to the club.” I couldn’t help but grin evilly. “Once anime has its hooks sunk into you, you’re not getting free.”

“I’ll gladly dive into its nefarious embrace,” Shirley responded gamely and giggled. I waved and returned to the kitchen to inform Bernard and whip up a mug of warm honey milk.

The next week or so passed by, with days of calm peace reigning supreme. I wandered through them, and in a way, I wished this blissful period would last forever.

Unfortunately, life was never a single smooth journey.

After work one night, I cleaned up the place.

“Get home early,” Bernard told me with a dismissive gesture. “It’s getting really late.”

“Stay safe,” Honey said worriedly, poking her head out from the stairwell. Honey Café was situated in a double-story building, and while the first floor was completely renovated into a dining area with a huge kitchen, Bernard and Honey Chan lived in the residential apartment on the second story, which was closed off from the public.

It was much easier for them to close up the shop and keep an eye on it after opening hours. On the other hand, I had to walk about fifteen minutes, past Mi Tang station, and toward the row of apartment blocks where I had rented a room.

“I’ll be fine,” I assured them as I placed the mop back into the cleaning closet. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

After washing up and changing, I stepped out of the café and into the cool night air. Spring still had the country in its chilly grasp, and I shivered when a cool breeze gusted past me. Sticking my hands into my pockets, I proceeded home.

The streets were empty. The café usually closed around 9.30pm, and it was almost 10 by the time I was done with cleaning up. Bernard and Honey usually insisted on doing the closing and drove me back home as soon as possible, but otherwise it was rare that I would leave after ten. The city never slept, it was true, but this wasn’t a commercial or fashionable area, and the roads were deserted at this time of the night.

Tomorrow was a weekday, and people had to either go to school or work early in the morning.

As I took the familiar route back home – a path that I had treaded over and over again for almost seven years now, I felt the hair on my neck prickle. An uneasy feeling rose in my chest. For a while, I had been hearing the soft scrape of my shoes against pavement, but I thought I heard someone else walking.

When I turned around, I didn’t see anyone. No, wait…was that a silhouette ducking behind cover of a fence?

I wasn’t sure, but I began hastening my pace. Fifteen minutes…no, my apartment block was now ten minutes away. Let’s get home, lock the door and…

That sound again. But this time, it came from the front. I braked to an abrupt halt and stumbled back when several figures stepped out from around the corner of a closed stationary shop ahead of me. A few of them were burly, dressed in thick leather and had rough, grizzled features. Gangsters, maybe? I glanced over my shoulder and saw another couple of them emerge from behind, cutting off any route of escape. They had all angles covered and me completely surrounded.

What caught my eye, however, was the single person leading them, a familiar face complete with a long white coat that reminded me of his boasts the other week.

Victor Tang.

“Good evening, Junior,” the supposed doctor said in a mockingly pleasant voice. “It has been a while, hasn’t it?”

John Lee H. Wu
Steward McOy