Chapter 18:

No Room for Gloom

Sweet like Honey

“I’m fine. Really.”

I typed impatiently in the chat app Shirley used to contact me, insisting that I was all right. She was still worried about me, and I reversed the topic on her.

“What about you? You didn’t look so good after the busking. Are you okay now?”

“Yeah, don’t worry!” She added an emoji after that reply. A smiley face that was customized or something. “I’m more worried about you.”

“And I’m more worried about you!”

She responded with a laughing emoji, and I couldn’t help but wonder if she was mocking me. I was so out of touch with the stupid emojis that the younger generation used these days. My dad used them too, so they were also probably popular with the older folks.

“We’re both totally in sync. Well, we’ll watch each other’s backs then.”

“Yeah.” I typed quickly. “If you need any help at all, don’t hesitate to let me know. I live close by, so I can rush over whenever something happens.”

I didn’t mention what might happen specifically, but Shirley appeared to take the hint.

“I will. Thanks! Good night!”

I watched the sleeping dog emoji that she used as a sticker. That looked cute, but I had no idea where she got the emojis from. Whatever, I suppose.

Before I could put my phone down, though, I received a message from someone else. A friend I hadn’t been in touch with for a long time. Travis Yong, who was probably one of the few friends I had back in high school and didn’t believe in the rumors. Or even if he did believe in them, he continued to befriend me and looked at my good points instead.

“Hey, Junior! It’s been a long while! You free right now?”

“What’s up?” I swiftly typed a response. It really had been a long time…probably five years? Four? If I wasn’t mistaken, he was a lawyer, providing legal advice on finances and the such. I wasn’t sure.

“Oh, I thought you should know! Apparently, we’re organizing a high school reunion for our year! The whole batch from the class of ’06 are gathering in Crowne Hotel…you know, the one in our hometown?”

I knew that one. I sighed.

“That’s good. Have fun.”

“Are you not coming?”

“No.” I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t have good memories about my high school…or specifically, I didn’t have good memories regarding my former schoolmates. I had burned all bridges with them because of my stupidity and socially awkward actions. It was my fault. If I hadn’t done that to Helen Huang…

“Come on!” Travis begged with a bunch of emojis. “It’s been a long time since we met up. I want to see you again! How are you doing?”

“Not good.” I didn’t elaborate. I had told Travis that I had dropped out of graduate school, so he should know my circumstances.

“Aw…” Another weird crying emoji, probably of an anime character. “I was hoping to meet you again because it’s been so long. If you change your mind, you’re more than welcome!”

“I don’t think the others will welcome me.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. I’ve talked to them and persuaded them. If Victor or any of the others try something funny on you, I’ll stop them.” He put on a smug emoji. “I’m a lawyer. You can sue them and I’ll make sure you’ll win the case.”

Briefly, I considered consulting him about suing Victor for physical assault the other night. Especially since I had the evidence, courtesy of Shirley. But I decided against it. It wasn’t worth the trouble and given that I was currently only working parttime in Honey Café, I couldn’t possibly afford the exorbitant legal fees.

Obviously, I had no intention of asking Travis to take my case for free.

“Thanks. I’ll think about it.”

“Make sure you do!”

With a sigh, I closed the app and put my smartphone down. A high school reunion, huh? Hell, no. I was going to avoid it like the plague. Even if Helen, Victor and the others didn’t resent me, I still wouldn’t have gone. These events were normally a bragging session where the more successful adults among us showed off their wealth and statuses while turning their noses and looking down upon those who hadn’t made it as far in life.

With a heavy heart, I pushed those gloomy thoughts out of my mind and went to bed.

The next few days passed without incident, but it became a daily routine for me to leave work early and escort Shirley home. It came to a point where her roommates recognized me.

“Oh, hey!” A girl with long auburn hair waved at me. She was Nina Ruo, if I wasn’t mistaken. “You’re here today!”

“Escorting our Sis Shirley home?” This time, it was a male roommate. Apparently, the guys lived on the first floor, and he was the only one there. He was Howard Hong, a student at the public university a few blocks away. Nina was his senior, which was why he addressed both her and Shirley as sister.

“We appreciate the effort!” The final roommate was another girl who lived on the second floor, and unlike the other two, was a businesswoman. She was Cheryl Gong, and was the oldest of the bunch. From what I could tell, she was a few years older than me and Shirley. She nodded at me approvingly. “Thanks for keeping Shirley safe.”

“No problem.”

They were hanging out in the veranda in the open. The night had become a bit warmer as spring slowly transitioned into summer, but the heat hadn’t hit us just yet. That was a relief. I hated summers. I preferred cool weathers.

Once I made sure that she was safe, I turned away. Occasionally, I would still catch a glimpse or two of the stalking shadow, but I never could get a full view of him. Or her.

In this day and age, you get cancelled if you assume gender and pronouns, after all.

Still, we couldn’t continue like this forever. Even as Shirley took her seat at the veranda and accepted a cold can of beer from Howard, I could see the toll that this whole thing was taking on her. She looked exhausted. Yet, she couldn’t simply stay at home all the time.

“I’ll go crazy if I’m stuck at home with nothing to do,” she had told me a day or two ago when I had suggested that she stayed home until the stalker gave up or until we caught him/her. “Maybe it’s from my days of being an idol, but I can’t stand being alone. I don’t feel comfortable if I don’t have any company. As long as it’s not a crowd.

I didn’t pretend to understand because I spent most of my academic career isolated in my room, reading or writing. But I could still sympathize. Why must she be forced to sacrifice the things she liked doing because of some idiot?

With a scowl, I turned my gaze back down the fence, hoping to catch the stalker red-handed. This had to end sometime, but I had no idea how.

“Well, I’ll head home then. Enjoy your beer, guys.”


“Go home safe!”

“See you!”

Shirley’s roommates waved and I nodded before turning to leave. After taking a few steps and feeling the cool night breeze on my face, I was about a couple of minutes away from the apartment block where I rented a room when I felt a chill.

This could be an opportunity.

I didn’t feel the pair of eyes on me. Whenever I returned home after dropping Shirley off at her house, that sensation of being watched disappeared immediately. That could only mean one thing.

Especially since Shirley was in the veranda with her roommates today…

Whirling around, I faced the direction of Shirley’s share house and broke into a run.

Steward McOy