Chapter 28:

Brave the Grave

Sweet like Honey

My mom took a liking to Shirley, much to my relief. I had watched way too manga videos where the female lead had a ton of issues with her mother-in-law, but I was glad to see we wouldn’t have similar drama in reality.

“Make sure you bring her back!” Mom told me. “Remember to visit during New Year!”

“New Year is still pretty far away, and we’ll be back for summer before then,” I assured her.

“Don’t forget what I told you,” Dad reminded me. I nodded and did a mock salute.

“Yeah. I’ll do my best and be responsible.”

“Thank you for hosting me last night,” Shirley said with a bow. “I’ll make sure to visit again. I’ll drag Junior back if I have to.”

“Of course, of course! You’re welcome anytime!” Mom waved at her. Last night, I had to inform her not to probe too much into Shirley’s past as an idol because it was a sensitive matter. Fortunately, mom was from an older generation who didn’t chase idols, and so she had no problem avoiding the delicate issue. “Please visit as much as you can!”

“It’ll be difficult to come every month, but we can at least come twice a year.”

“Yes, it seems like you’ll be busy sorting out your career in the city.” Dad nodded understandingly. “Good luck.”

“Thanks.” I raised a hand to wave goodbye. “I’ll see you in the summer…well, actually, I’ll call you again next weekend. See you online then.”

“Don’t worry your mom too much,” dad reminded me. I nodded with a grimace, and then turned away, with Shirley falling into step beside me.

It was time to return to the city.

As we took the train back to the city, Shirley suddenly tapped my arm. She had this faraway look in her eyes as she gazed out of the window, skimming the blurry images of lush, green forests and white-capped gray mountains in the background. She had been silent this entire time, and I had left her to enjoy the scenery because I had figured that a city girl like her rarely had the opportunity to admire the rural landscape outside our urban bubble. Evidently, though, her mind was someplace else.

“Hey, before we return, do you mind if we make a stop somewhere?”

“Sure. Where are we going?”

Shirley smiled sadly, and for a moment, I thought her eyes were damp with tears. Flustered, I reached for a tissue, but she waved me away.

“I’m fine. Don’t worry.” She straightened and peered out of the window, where the next train station was coming into view. “We’re going to visit my mom.”

And that was how I found myself in front of Shirley’s grave. She placed fresh flowers in front of the tomb, and then knelt, lowered her head and clasped her hands.

“It’s been a while, mom. Hasn’t it?” She lifted her head and forced a smile. “Sorry for not visiting for so long. But you’ll forgive me now because I’ve brought my boyfriend with me.”

I bowed in front of the tomb as well, but Shirley continued.

“So it’s okay now. I’m no longer alone. Not that I’ve ever been truly alone, but for the first time, I think I have someone who truly understands me. Someone other than you, of course. You always knew me the best, mom.” She beamed. “I think that’s what drew him to me. He reminded me of you. You know, when you make me a warm drink whenever I’m down, to cheer me up. And also, because, like you, he looks past my idol persona and accepts all of me. Even my private self.”

She looked up, her hands still clasped.

“That’s why…you don’t have to worry about me anymore. Rest in peace, mom. I brought Junior here to introduce him to you…and I know you will be happy for me. You’ve always been nagging at me to find someone, despite the rules laid down by the agency. Well, I did it. I wish I could have done it earlier, before you…left, but…here he is.”

“Hello, auntie,” I said. Shirley glanced at me and snickered.

“Thank you for going along.”

I shrugged. “I think…I can feel your mom’s presence somehow.” I closed my eyes. “A warm, fuzzy feeling, as if she’s looking down on us. I think she’s…happy.”

“Oh, you feel it too?” Shirley wiped at her eyes and nodded. She returned her wistful gaze to the tomb. “I’m sorry, mom. I couldn’t…hold on. I wasn’t able to continue with my dream…the dream you sacrificed your life for me to pursue. I’m so sorry.”

I reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. Shirley raised her hand and entwined her fingers with mine, gripping them tightly.

“…I really wanted to sing some more. every time I was on stage, I would think of you. I know you are somehow able to watch all of my performances…even from where you are. That was the only thing that continued motivating me. Until…now.”

She shook her head and took a deep, shuddering breath.

“But I think it’s time for me to move on. I still don’t know what to do next, but I’ve found someone to accompany me in the uncertain road forward. That’s a big first step, at least. I wish you are still around to advise me…though, knowing me, I’ll be too stubborn to listen.”

She cracked a smile. I could feel her fingers trembling. Deep down, she didn’t want to give up on singing. I could sense it. was there anything I could do for her?

Perhaps it was my imagination, but I could feel a prickly sensation, as if someone was urging me to help her. To stop her from giving up and convince her to proceed with her dream. At the same time, I knew there was no going back. It wasn’t as if Shirley could simply return to being an idol.

No, there had to be some other way. Closing my eyes, I made a vow.

I understand. I’ll help and support Shirley as best as I can. I’ll make sure her dream comes true, at least in some form or another. We can’t let her stop singing.

Was it my imagination, or did I just sense a sigh of satisfaction from somewhere above? I probably would never know the truth, but I would like to believe.

“Even so…I would still like to thank you for everything, mom. I’m entering a new chapter in my life, and I only wish you’re here to walk the path with me. Still, I have Junior with me now.” She tightened her hold in our entwined hands. “So be at ease and rest. You deserve it.”

The both of us were silent for a moment, our heads lowered respectfully. Then she got up and dusted her skirt. “Farewell, mom. I’ll try to visit again when I can. Be at peace.”

She turned to me with a wide smile, her eyes still moist yet bright at the same time. Offering me a hand, she cocked her head to the side.

“Shall we?”

“Yeah.” I took her hand and allowed her to lead me to wherever she wanted to go next.

No matter where she took me, I was resolved to follow her to the very end…to whatever destination awaited us. As long as we traveled through the same route together, I was confident we could overcome whatever obstacles that lay in our path ahead.

Together, forever.

John Lee H. Wu
Steward McOy