Chapter 16:

Busk till Dusk

Sweet like Honey


“My treat,” I said and set a plate of a slice of honey custard pie in front of Shirley the next morning. “As thanks for saving me last night.”

“Are you sure you’re all right?” She asked, concerned. Despite the tussle, most of my injuries were relatively minor. Bruises, lacerations and scrapes, but otherwise, I was fine.

“Yeah.” I rotated my shoulder and flexed my arm to show her. “See? Not a problem.”

Shirley raised an eyebrow, her gaze particularly riveted to the bruises and cuts on my face, but she wisely didn’t retort. Instead, she shook her head.

“Who is that doctor dude? Why does he keep harassing you?”

“He’s an ex-classmate from high school…we used to go to the same high school in the countryside. I never thought he would end up being transferred to the city.” I sighed and rubbed my forehead.

“He’s been like this ever since high school?” Shirley stared at me in disbelief. “How old are you guys?”

“We’re over thirty now,” I replied heavily. “And to be fair…I guess it was my fault. I did something stupid in high school. I offer no excuses, other than it being youth and hormones, and now the whole school hates me. Well, almost the whole school. I don’t blame them. Not after what I did.”

“What did you do?” Shirley was curious, but when I scrunched my face, she waved frantically. “It’s fine if you don’t want to answer.”

“Uh, no. It’s okay. Let’s just say I upset a girl in our class. A girl that Victor Tang – the doctor – likes. And now he’s helping her take revenge on me.”

“So all this…over a girl?” Shirley stared at me in disbelief. I shrugged, remaining vague about the whole thing. I didn’t want to elaborate too much. Fortunately, she took the hint and dug her fork into the honey custard pie. “But…it’s over ten years since high school and he’s still trying to impress a girl by dunking on you? He certainly hasn’t grown up.”

“Yeah, well…” I scratched my head. “Like I said, it’s my fault. But I didn’t think they would hold onto a grudge for so long. I thought I could start anew and have a fresh beginning here in the city, and so I was happy to take the chance to pursue a PhD here, but I guess it’s a small world and my past has caught up with me. I’m suffering the consequences for my actions.”

“No matter what you did in the past, hiring thugs to beat you up in the middle of the night is still too far.” Shirley huffed. I could only smile awkwardly at that.

“How about you?” I asked. “Is it really okay to reveal your identity like that last night?”

Shirley had ditched the mask today, for some reason. She still wore that red cap and ridiculous sunglasses, but she had abandoned the medical mask entirely. She smirked.

“Don’t worry. It’s not like there was anyone else around. In fact, I think those goons will want to keep this affair silent more than I do. What are they going to post on social media, that I caught them ganging up on a single person and beating him up red-handed?”

“Yeah,” I agreed with a chuckle, though I couldn’t help but recall that shadow lurking behind after the whole affair. Was it part of Victor’s entourage, or was it another person entirely?

“Shouldn’t you report this to the police, though?” Shirley asked with a frown. “They literally committed criminal assault on you. They deserve to be locked up.”

“No.” I looked away, feeling guilty. “To be honest, I deserve to be beaten up. Like I said, this is revenge. Once they feel like I’ve paid back my debt, they will stop.”

“I honestly do not think that’s true, nor do I think it’s correct. You should reconsider calling the cops.”

“I…will think about it.” Despite saying that, I knew deep down that I was being punished for my past sins, and I was reluctant to involve the police…or my ugly past would surface once more.

“See that you do.” Oblivious, Shirley nodded, though she didn’t seem satisfied.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t talk more because another customer had come in and I needed to serve her.

“I’ll talk to you later. Enjoy.”

“Sure.”

The day turned out to be busier than I expected, but it was pretty fruitful. Especially with all the honey fruit pastries that we sold. As I served table after table, I noticed that Shirley herself was glancing out of the window…a little anxiously.

Honey even approached her.

“What’s the matter?”

“I don’t know,” Shirley replied in a low voice. “I feel like I’m being…watched. I thought I saw a camera flash earlier, but…it could be my imagination.”

Honey frowned and peered outside the window, but she nodded slowly.

“I…have the same feeling. Ever since last night, actually. You should be careful. Can you stay in the café for a bit longer today?”

“Yes.”

I wanted to join the conversation, but I was taking table seven’s order to a group of young men in business suits. Victor was not among them, thankfully, and they were too occupied with bragging or bantering to pay any attention to me. From the glances they gave Honey, they probably wanted her to serve them, but she wisely averted their gazes. Which was why I was the one bringing them their orders. Thankfully, none of them made a fuss or a move.

Bernard would whoop their asses, otherwise.

I was able to breathe a sigh of relief in the evening, when the sky was darkening and the crowd was thinning. By now, it was a little after eight, and the orders had slowed. I leaned against the counter, my bruises still throbbing. At least they weren’t as raw as yesterday…

“Junior!” Honey waved me over. I reluctantly got up from my seat and made my way over, and she gave me a look over. “You should go home early tonight. Get some rest.”

“I’m fine,” I’m argued.

“No, you’re not,” Bernard rumbled as he exited from the kitchen and wiped his hands on his apron. He glared at me. “And even if you are, we need you to send Shirley home.” He jerked his head toward the window, though I could hardly see much outside now that it was dark, and the lights were making all sorts of weird reflections. “There’s…a possibility that someone’s stalking her.”

My heart grew cold. Evidently, Honey had shared her concerns with Bernard, and they both had already decided on the best course of action.

“Wait, I don’t want to trouble you…” Shirley began, but I shook my head and untied my apron.

“It’s no trouble at all. I’m a little more tired than usual today, anyway. And besides, we live close to each other. Give me a second to get changed and we’ll return home.”

Shirley hesitated before she bit her lip and nodded. “Thank you.”

Within the next few minutes, we were out in the night air, walking along the street and heading toward the direction of Mi Tang Station. I was looking around in hopes of locating the stalker, but failed miserably. Shirley giggled as she watched me.

“Stop that.” She smacked me playfully. “You probably scared him off already.”

“Then I have achieved my goal.” I relaxed visibly, though inwardly I couldn’t shake off the unease. It still felt as if someone was watching us. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing, and I couldn’t help catching something darting out of my peripheral vision every few seconds. Of course, whenever I glanced back, it was long gone.

It was pointless stressing over it. Apparently, as long as I stayed by Shirley’s side, the stalker wasn’t going to do anything. I vowed to see her home safely.

My companion had other plans, however. As we passed by Mi Tang Station, we caught sight of a crowd gathering in front of the huge steps leading to the entrance. A middle-aged man with an unshaven beard, an old trench coat and a hat was standing in front of a microphone, strumming his guitar and singing.

“Across the stars and far away, I miss you day by day. I know you wish to have your say, but all I ask is by your side I stay.”

The melancholic notes hung suspended in the air, and though the audience seemed curious, a few appeared to lose interest and began to leave. It was thinning out by the time Shirley and I approached.

“As the memories fade away, I keep your image at bay. You continue to hold sway, and I begin to lose my way.”

The lyrics were rough and odd, but I suppose they were created by him. The busker persisted in singing, ignoring the departing crowd.

Only Shirley remained enraptured, but from the distant look in her eyes, I could tell that she wasn’t really listening to the busker. Instead, she was imagining herself singing in his place, atop a stage and surrounded by an audience.

She desired to sing like he did, to recover the courage she lost when she retired, and returned to the spotlight.

I smiled and gave her a slight push. “You can do it.”

“Huh?” For a second, Shirley looked at me, astonished. I nodded and gestured. She took a deep breath and returned her attention to the busker, who was wrapping his song up with an impassive expression. A few sympathetic commuters tossed coins into his bucket, but by now the steps were emptied out. He ran his fingers over his guitar and sighed, but steeled himself for another song.

He had no choice. He didn’t seem like he had made quite enough to feed himself yet. His voice was ragged, his fingers were raw from constant strumming, and his skin was pale from the cold. His battered jacket wasn’t enough to protect him from the low temperatures.

Before he could start, though, Shirley stepped forward and offered her hand.

“May I?”

The busker blinked and stared at her. Shirley smiled and nodded before taking the micrphone.

And then she began to sing.

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