Chapter 27:

Meet the Parents

Sweet like Honey

I couldn’t say no like Annika could, and so I ended up bringing Shirley home to meet my parents, as she requested. As I stopped outside the gate to our two-story house that was situated on the east side of the countryside town, I reflected on the events that had led us here.

Well, no point dawdling. Let’s just go for it.

Thankfully, I still had my keys, so I could just open the gate and let Shirley in without ringing the doorbell. My parents were expecting me home anytime soon, though they probably thought I would return later at night because of the reunion. With that farce now up in flames because of the stunt that Victor Tang and Helen Huang pulled, there was no reason to drag this out.

“Oh? You’re back, Junior!” Dad looked up from his couch in the living room when I pushed the door open. His eyes widened when he caught sight of Shirley tagging along behind me. “You brought back a…uh, friend?”

“What? Who?” Mom also rose from the sofa, and her mouth dropped when she caught sight of our guest. “Oh, my! You look so beautiful!” She frowned and pondered, predictably because she found Shirley familiar, but couldn’t place her finger on where she had seen her before. It wasn’t as if my parents were the type to chase idols, after all.

“This is Shirley Li,” I said, introducing the girl I love to my parents. “She says she wants to visit you.”

“Hello, uncle and auntie.” Shirley bowed politely before producing some chocolates. On the way home, we had dropped by a store to purchase those, with her asking me what my parents liked. “Here’s a little gift to you. I’m Junior’s girlfriend, and so I thought I should greet you now that we’re in the vicinity.”

“What? Girlfriend?” Mom’s hand flew to her mouth in amazement. “Junior, you have a girlfriend!?”

“Yeah, well…I thought I should introduce her to you today. We only just started going out recently.”

“That’s excellent news.” Dad smiled warmly and nodded toward Shirley. “It’s nice to meet you, Shirley. Please take care of Junior.”

“I will.”

“W…wait!” Mom suddenly clapped her hands, her eyes bulging. “I remember now! Aren’t you that ex-idol!? From that…sorry, I can’t remember the group name, but I saw the news. You retired a few months ago!”

“Yes.” Shirley was smiling patiently, and I prayed that her façade wouldn’t crack. Fortunately, it appeared that she had already anticipated this. “I’m no longer an idol, so you don’t have to worry about that. I have quit the entertainment industry.”

“Yes, yes.” Mom nodded. “I read about that. What do you plan to do now?”

“For now, I wish to enjoy my retirement while thinking about what to do next.” Shirley realized that dad was gesturing for her to take a seat, and she lowered herself onto the couch opposite my parents. At my dad’s look, I went to the kitchen to grab a drink for her. He was pretty meticulous about entertaining guests, even back when I was just a kid. While I did so, I could still hear Shirley speaking to my parents, who were listening intently. “I haven’t quite decided, and I wish to explore as many options as possible. In fact, that’s actually one of the reasons why I came to greet you. I think it will be good if I discuss this with you.”

“Oh?” Dad raised an eyebrow right when I exited the kitchen with a can of coke from the fridge. I placed it in front of Shirley, and she accepted it with a smile before glancing back at my parents. Dad’s brow was furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“I believe you’re asking Junior to return to the countryside after he dropped out of graduate school, right?” Shirley swallowed and bowed her head slightly. “I apologize if I’m intruding.”

“No, it’s totally fine,” dad said with a wave of his hand. “You’re pretty much family now, so don’t worry about intruding or whatnot.”

“That’s right.” Mom nodded. “But you’re correct. I don’t see the point in Junior remaining in the city any longer if he’s no longer pursuing a PhD. He might as well come back. His family is all here, and I prefer if he’s close by. At least if something happens, we can take care of him and help out. Otherwise, he’s all alone in the city with nobody to help him.”

“He has me,” Shirley declared. Mom was so taken aback that she couldn’t respond, and my girlfriend pushed on. “I’ll take care of him if anything happens, and if necessary, I’ll return with him to the countryside if there’s anything that exceeds my ability. But I wish to request that you allow him to remain in the city for a bit longer, to remain by my side, as the both of us figure out what to do next in this stage of our life.”

“Why can’t you come to the countryside and figure things out here? You’ll have a place to stay here, you don’t have to worry about meals and accommodation, and…” Mom blinked. “And didn’t you retire? You don’t have to necessarily stay in the city, do you?”

“Although I haven’t fully decided on what to do next, but from the options I am considering, they all involve continuing or starting a new career in the city. Alongside Junior.” Shirley kept her head lowered. “I ask for your understanding.”

“I understand.” To mom and Shirley’s surprise, it was dad who spoke up. He nodded thoughtfully. “Take your time and think about the next step in your career in the city. Just don’t take too long. If you need any help, don’t be a stranger. Feel free to approach us for anything.” He smiled warmly. “There will always be a place here for you. You know that, right, Junior? And we’ll also make sure to reserve a space for you too, Shirley.”

“Thank you.”

“But…” Mom protested before falling silent when she saw how earnest Shirley was. She sighed heavily, but no longer objected.

“I understand that there’s uncertainty because we don’t have a concrete plan just yet, but I promise you that we’ll figure this out.” Shirley reached out to squeeze my hand. “The both of us are in this together, and we’re gradually working on it. It might take a while, but we’ll certainly get there and become something the both of you will be proud of.”

“I’m already proud of Junior,” dad said as he nodded toward me.

“Thanks,” I mumbled, embarrassed.

“Are you sleeping here tonight?” Mom asked as she stood up again. “I’ll get the guest room ready.”

“Thank you. I’ll help out.” Shirley also rose and followed. As both ladies vanished down the corridor, dad leaned back with a sigh and offered me a smile.

“Don’t worry about your mom. I’ll persuade her. Do whatever you need in the city. I’m not concerned what you do, as long as you’re capable of taking care of yourself financially. Just don’t rely on these odd parttime jobs. In this day and age, they won’t pay enough for you to set aside retirement funds and other emergency savings.”

I understood that he was concerned that I was living hand to mouth, just scraping by with barely enough to pay my bills but not sufficient for savings of any kind. He had a point there. Even if I was happy working at Honey Café, in the long run, it wouldn’t be enough to maintain a family of any kind or live comfortably in my old age.

“Also, Junior…I want you to know this. Regardless of whether you fail to get your PhD or not, I’m still proud of you. You’ve gotten a masters, and that alone is already far ahead of anything I’ve achieved. I’m proud of you, son, so hold your head up. There’s nothing shameful about falling short. We all experienced failures in life – hell, I did so too. You remember the little business I started up when you were in elementary school and went bust? We were almost bankrupted by that venture. But I picked myself up and moved on. So don’t be afraid of failure. Learn from it and become stronger in the days ahead. Don’t be ashamed of it – you’ve already traveled far along a journey that I can never imagine myself traversing, and there’s plenty to be proud of for that alone. You’re just…arriving at a different destination in life.”

He relaxed his hands on the armrest and took a sip of his beer.

“As long as you’re happy, it doesn’t matter what road you take. I know you make an honest living, and that itself is far more impressive than many other people who have to rely on unscrupulous means. So hold your chest out, son.”

“Thanks, dad.” I felt as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. “I appreciate it.”

John Lee H. Wu
Steward McOy