Chapter 34:

Bringing a Dream to Life

Sweet like Honey

In the end, we had over 50,000 views and 2,700 subscribers for the first stream. The number increased after I uploaded the video to Shirley’s channel, An Older Girl, though nowhere as rapidly as when she first streamed. It was fine. When we began this, we knew that it would take time. There was nothing else to do but be patient and maintain a consistent streaming schedule.

“You’re doing well,” I told Shirley. “The numbers look good.”

“I was hoping for 10,000 subscribers, at least.” Fan Wong was grumbling, but he shut up when Shirley and I stared at him. I shook my head and gestured for him to continue.

“You’re the social media expert. Speak your mind.”

“No, nothing. It’s just that…I mean, strictly speaking, nobody expects to get more than a few dozen subscribers the first time. But I tried every connection I had to draw viewers in, so I was being overly optimistic.”

“It’s fine.” I took a deep breath and assured him. The poor guy looked terrified of Shirley, and he was avoiding his gaze every time his eyes wandered toward her. It wasn’t just guilt from the stalking incident. He was also in awe of her, and I doubted he would ever stop worshipping her as an idol. From what I could tell, this was a dream come true for him. “We’ll keep at it and slowly grow the channel. It’s too early to give up and get disheartened.”

“Of course!” Some life returned to Fan Wong and he nodded. “I’ll keep at it with the electronic music accompaniment. Though, I want to suggest that you make some covers.” This time, he looked directly at Shirley, despite the tremor in his pudgy features. He swallowed. “You might want to sing your old songs from Sweet Dreams. That will bring us more views and subscribers. Don’t worry, there’s no need to reveal your identity, and we don’t have to worry about it getting out because you’re performing solo and behind a virtual avatar this time – but the audience will be awed by your authenticity. Since you are the real thing.”

Shirley chewed on her lip as she contemplated deeply. “I’ll consider it. But let’s give it a week before we resort to that. I still have my own songs I wish to sing.”

“I’m okay with that.” Fan Wong looked to me, and I nodded.

“I’ll support you no matter what you choose to do.”

“Thanks, the both of you.” Shirley rewarded us with a genuine smile. “I couldn’t have done this without you.”

“Don’t thank us yet,” I said. “Wait until we become huge first.”

“That’s right!” Fan Wong pumped his pudgy fist into the air. “Let’s make sure the channel succeeds!”

Unfortunately, a week later, and we only managed over 3,000 subscribers. The views had dropped, especially since the hype that Fan Wong built up had died down and most of the audience had moved on to other channels or livestreams.

This wasn’t looking good.

The good news, though, was that Bernard and Honey returned from their belated honeymoon, and brought souvenirs. They were already waiting for us when they reopened the café the next morning.

“You should try the manuka honey too!” Honey told us cheerfully as she placed the jars in our hands. Then she winked. “So how did your VTuber project go?”

“Not very well,” I admitted.

“Hey, it’s only been a week,” Honey said with an encouraging smile. “You’ll do fine. You have to be patient, that’s all.”

“That’s true,” Shirley admitted, though she was staring downward at her table. She sighed.

“You know,” Bernard rumbled, emerging from the kitchen. “When Honey and I first started this café, it didn’t do very well. We faced competition from the big franchises. We were a small startup that nobody had heard of before. I’ll have you know that Honey Café was in the red for several months before we finally made enough to break even. We were even on the verge of closing down, but Honey was having none of it.” He grinned. “I’m glad I listened to her.”

“I told you so. I knew we have something special. We just had to keep at it.”

“Yes, honey. I know.” Bernard nodded before clearing his throat. “My point is…don’t give up. Things are always going to look bleak at first, but you just need to persevere. If you want have a dream you want fulfilled, then you have to work for it. Nothing comes easy, and there are always hurdles to face.”

“Yeah. I know. But it’s just…”

Seven years. Seven years of studying…and I dropped out of my PhD program. I just couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t stand failing again. I had failed too many times already, and I couldn’t…

“We won’t give up.”

I blinked and I felt Shirley’s hand on mine. She met my gaze with a determined expression, and I felt my resolve hardening once more.

“Yeah. Yeah, we won’t.”

“Good. Get back to work. Don’t get distracted. I won’t let you use your side job as an excuse while you’re still working here.” Bernard gave me a slap in the back, and gently pushed me back toward the counter. I saluted.

“Right, sir.”

That said, we still had to do something. That plagued me later that night when Shirley and I returned to the studio apartment and held a strategic meeting with Fan Wong.

“Did you consider the option I raised last week?” He asked while the three of us were watching the numbers. We had to be realistic. Nobody simply built up a fanbase of several thousand subscribers within a week, but I supposed we got carried away. Even then, the growth rate and declining views might pose a problem.

There were two routes we could go down here. First, we could just continue whatever we were doing and use our consistency to build up views and subscriptions. They would never go as high as the first livestream, but that was fine. It was for long term stability, where we patiently built up a small but loyal fanbase that would support us over the future.

The second was to do something drastic to grab people’s attention and cause our subscriptions and views to shoot up. It was a double-edged sword because if we failed to meet people’s expectations after that, the results would be disastrous. It was also shortsighted.

Shirley glanced at me, and I nodded.

“I’ll support whatever decision you make.”

“Thanks, but…I’m not naïve. I know that with the accessibility of media platforms and the Internet, we need to stand out from the rest in order to survive. Otherwise, we won’t be able to make enough money to sustain our channel.” She took a deep breath. “You’ve invested money, time and effort into this. I don’t want to see it go to waste.”

She had a point. After buying this studio apartment, my funds were running dry.

Technically, I could still scrape a living through my parttime job at Honey Café, but that was far from feasible when it came to supporting Shirley, paying Fan Wong and making a living out of it. Not that I ever intended for this to be more than a hobby, but…

“There are merits to doing covers, especially when you’re starting out,” Fan Wong explained, sensing an opening. “Right now, hardly anybody knows who you are – as a VTuber, I mean. Your name won’t come up in search results or the Me Tube recommendations. However, if you do a cover, your channel and music videos will have a much higher chance of appearing on the recommendations or on search results. This will give you more publicity and expose your channel to a larger audience. That’s why many VTubers start off with covers.”

“Fan Wong has a point,” I admitted.

“Okay, then let’s go with it.” Shirley steeled herself and nodded. “Put on Sweet Like Honey. I’ll do a solo cover of it for today’s livestream.”

Taking the microphone, she began singing.

“Sweet like honey, sweet, sweet, sweet like honey. Yes, you like. Sweeter than caramel, your taste is so lovely that I’m addicted to you. Tell me how you feel. I just want a taste. Is this sensation real? Am I cooking in haste? No, it’s honey, it’s so sweet it melts in my mouth. I want you to have a taste too, honey from down south.”

In the background, Fan Wong punched the air and silently cheered. I didn’t blame him. I felt as if we were back in a concert hall, the room darkening as we melted into a formless crowd waving glowsticks. In the center, Shirley sang along, the spotlight focused entirely on her elegant figure.

“I might escape your attention, but falling for you is my intention. I will brew everything right. Honey, you’re my favorite flavor tonight!”

Pouring her heart and soul into the stream, Shirley sang as passionately as she could, and I saw the life and vigor return to her weary features. That spark in her eyes…honey and spice, mixed together for a potent concoction of music.

Steward McOy
John Lee H. Wu