Chapter 25:

Stand Together

Sweet like Honey

“You heard her.” Victor was almost gloating as he grabbed my hair before slamming my forehead against the ground so hard that I could feel the skin break and blood spill across my face, drops splattering against my glasses, which went askew. “Kowtow and apologize.”

“You!” Travis roared. “What are you doing?!”

“Justice,” Victor replied arrogantly. “Served to a creep who only knew how to stalk girls in high school. He deserves death. He’s lucky we didn’t murder him on the spot.”

“Says the guy who hired thugs to cripple me late at night,” I growled, but he kicked me.

“Shut up, creep. You should be apologizing, not talking back.”

“What is this about? Helen feeling uncomfortable just because she sees Junior in school everyday? But after you all scolded and threatened him, he stayed away like you asked him to. Why are you still harping on this?” Travis demanded, but the underlings held him back.

“Because it’s not enough punishment!” Victor bellowed. “How can he go on and live his own life peacefully after ruining Helen’s?”

“…I ruined her life?” I repeated incredulously. “How, exactly? I avoided her like you told me to, and we have nothing to do with each other ever since high school. I haven’t seen her for fifteen years, and she’s the one who showed up in the café I work in!”

“Psychological damage.” Helen pointed toward her head. “You need to compensate for all the mental anguish you caused me.”

“Lady, if you want him to pay compensation for psychological damage, you’ll need an official psychiatric evaluation.” Travis shook his head in amazement. “And no, a diagnosis from you doesn’t count, Victor. You’re not a certified psychiatrist. You’re a general practitioner. And we’ll be settling this in court. Of course, I’ll be representing Junior. Also, you’re only suing after fifteen years? The court will throw this case out.”

“Your friendship is so beautiful, but we aren’t asking for money.” Victor sneered. “We want him to suffer like Helen did.”

“That’s right.” Helen leaned over, her lips curling smugly. “I know the truth. You went to graduate school to impress me, didn’t you? You thought you might stand a chance with me if you had a PhD and raised your status. But all you ended up achieving was revealing the failure that you truly are. You couldn’t even last to the end and dropped out in your final year because of how incompetent you are.”

I gaped at her in disbelief for a moment before shaking my head incredulously.

“Get over yourself, lady. Not everything revolves around you. I certainly didn’t pursue a PhD because of you.”

“There’s no need to deny it. I know the truth. It’s unfortunate, though.” She wrapped her hands around Victor’s arm and rested her head on his shoulder. “I’m already taken.”

“That’s right. We’re engaged. We’ve been dating for several years now.” Victor grinned triumphantly. “We might be generous enough to invite you to our wedding, but we don’t want to risk it. After all, who knows what a lunatic like you would do when you go crazy from jealousy. I don’t want you turning up and stabbing me or Helen.”

“I’m so glad I didn’t choose you back then.” Helen was giggling. “I’m so glad I drove you away. You really are a failure. I’m getting married to Victor, a doctor. His family owns their own hospital, and he has a bright future ahead in the city hospital. Unlike a loser like you. Why would I ever choose a boring nerd like you? You’re like a toad desiring to feast on swan’s meat. That’s the epitome of madness.”

“The only insane ones are you both,” I spat, shaking off his hand and staggering to my feet. Now that he was too busily flirting with Helen, he wasn’t focusing his weight down on my shoulder any longer. I righted my glasses and glared at the two cronies, which caused them to flinch. That allowed Travis to break free as well. “Congratulations on getting engaged. But you really should watch that ego of yours. Who the fuck would go to graduate school just to impress a girl?! I’ve moved on since long ago, ever since you made your choice clear. And why the hell would I stab you because you’re getting married?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Victor inclined his head and lowered his voice. “Because I stole the girl you love. It hurts, doesn’t it? To be outdone by your rival and crushed so thoroughly. You were never my equal, yet you dared to compete with me…whether it was grades or trying for the hand of the most beautiful girl in school. Know your place, four-eyed trash.”

Was that what all this was about? Him trying to exert dominance over me because he felt threatened that I was scoring well in exams and targeting his girl?

He was obsessed over seeking “justice” and getting “revenge” for fifteen years because his masculine ego felt threatened? Seriously?

Victor chuckled. “You were wondering why we waited fifteen years. Well, it’s simple. Because Junior ran away. When we heard he was doing well and even moving on to a PhD program, we couldn’t help but feel like the world was unfair. Like, how can such a loser creep be rewarded for all the terrible things he had done? But then…we recently learned that he failed and dropped out of graduate school. And we were vindicated. Heaven has eyes, after all!”

Wow. And I thought Fan Wong was obsessed. I couldn’t help but be amazed. To think that they were actually jealous at what they saw as my apparent academic success and resented me for it the entire time instead of moving on with their own lives. But it explained why they waited until now – after fifteen years – to finally take action. They saw an opening and rushed to exploit it.

“Now I know why Junior was so reluctant to participate in the high school reunion. I had to fight so hard to convince him to come, and you guys ruined it all.” Travis was shaking with anger. He turned to me with a pained expression. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. If I had known it would turn out like this, I never would have invited you. Let’s go.” He spun toward the exit, his hands balled into fists. “I feel sick breathing the same air as them.”

“Did we say you can go?” Victor snapped, and at a gesture, his lackeys interposed themselves between us and the ballroom doors. “You aren’t going anywhere until you prostrate yourself in front of everyone.”

“You guys are seriously okay with this?” Travis asked the other ex-schoolmates, all of whom had remained silent and were just watching the show.

“I think he’s going too far,” someone murmured, only to earn a glare from Victor and shrink back.

“What can we do? Victor’s father is the director of the hospital in our neighborhood. We can’t go against him.”

“Sorry…we don’t want to be beaten up either.”

“It’s fine.” I placed a hand on Travis’s shoulder. “And I appreciate you standing up for me, but I’ll handle this.”

“No way, buddy.” Travis shrugged me off and stepped in front of me, ready to tussle. “I’m with you all the way, man.”

“Me too.”

“Yeah, you’re going too far, Victor.”

“I don’t think he was ever that bad, Helen. I make no excuses for his behavior, but you doing this to him is far worse than whatever he did to you before.”

To my surprise, a few of my ex-schoolmates were emerging from the crowd to back me up. Most of them were predictably guys, because I interacted more with fellow men after I began avoiding women in general because of the incident with Helen.

Victor looked absolutely furious with this turn of events. His thugs were now outnumbered by my growing crowd of friends – people I didn’t even know were my friends.

“You thought you are a failure, but you’re not. The truth is, all of us here have been helped by you in one way or another, Junior.” Travis nodded toward me. “You might think you’re all alone, but you always have friends back home.”

“I…” I watched them, dumbfounded. I never thought…I meant, they were really little things, all those things I did fifteen years ago. Helping the sports guy move equipment off the field. Tutoring a classmate after school. Lending a book. Assisting a search for a lost piece of stationary in the lecture hall. Lending money to a schoolmate who forgot his wallet so that he could buy lunch.

I couldn’t believe all these little things added up, and they would still remember that after so many years. I certainly had forgotten about them myself…especially when I threw away my past and ran away to the city.

“Don’t forget!” Victor snarled. “My father is the director of the hospital here! You had better not fall sick or get injured, or else…!”

“Or else what?”

Everyone turned at the familiar voice – not just to me, but everybody in the ballroom as well, for they had heard it either on television or the Internet or the radio.

Shirley glided out of the backroom and onto the stage that Victor had so thoughtfully prepared, her heels clicking against the smooth surface. She was in a night black dress that matched her long hair, which put her in stark contrast against Victor’s luxurious white suit and Helen’s light blue gown.

“That’s…Shirley Li!?”

“What is she doing here?!”

“Isn’t she that ex-idol who retired a few months ago? How…?”

“I know her! I’ve seen her on television before!”

Victor looked frightfully pale as he watched her, while Helen was stunned speechless. Shirley held up her smartphone and beamed.

“I’ve been recording the whole thing, by the way. I’ve to say, it was absolutely entertaining. My fans on the live stream had some…strong comments about your little performance.” She nodded to Travis. “And I believe they can serve as evidence for a court battle.”

My lawyer friend grinned. “They certainly can.”

“Why…why? How…?” Victor spluttered. “Why are you here?”

“What’s she doing here?” Helen finally found her voice, her eyes wide. “That’s the ex-idol!”

“From Sweet Dreams,” another of her female friends added nearby. “I’ve listened to her songs before.”

“Oh? Weren’t you the one who invited me?” Shirley tilted her head at an astonished Victor. “You hired a performer to entertain your guests at your high school reunion today. I still have the invoice.”

You are the performer?!”

“Yes, the one and only me!” Shirley spread her hands and spun around. She snapped her fingers, and soft, gentle music began to fill the ballroom. Taking a deep breath, she sang.

“Why would we need to be in love? How deeply for you have I strove? If you like someone, the reasons are many. His character, his temperament, his personality. But never his status or money. Don’t be suckered by reality.”

“It really is Shirley Li…”


Even though the music continued playing in the background, Shirley lowered her hands and stopped singing. She smirked at Helen.

“Also, you appear to be misunderstanding something, ma’am.”

“Ma’am…?” Helen staggered, probably offended at being addressed as something older. But then again, she was already over thirty…

“That’s right.” Shirley draped her hands around my neck and leaned against me. “Junior is my man. He has no reason to chase after you because he already has me. I’m sorry to say, but he has moved on from you long ago.”

Travis burst out laughing at that. Rubbing his eyes, he grinned at the stunned Victor and Helen.

“You mocked him for being a toad feasting on swan’s meat, but the truth of the matter is that he’s a diamond in the rough who already has a phoenix by his side. Why would he bother with a swan?”

John Lee H. Wu
Steward McOy