In order to attend elementary school with Fu Shizhou, Qiao Luo eagerly awaited the day he turned four. He finally grew old enough and big enough to start first grade, only to discover Fu Shizhou was already in sixth grade.
Qiao Luo spent ages counting and calculating again and again on his little fingers. In the end, he pouted and asked Fu Shizhou, "Zhouzhou-gege, why are you missing a year?"
Fu Shizhou didn't answer him. After finishing his homework, he went out to play with his classmates.
Qiao Luo could only go ask Grandpa Fu. That was when he learned Fu Shizhou had skipped third grade.
Qiao Luo was innately gifted when it came to performing arts; he was outstanding when compared to any other kid his age, at least in that regard. But his academic performance was average. In fact, he ranked at the bottom of his class in first grade, and his parents had no choice but to have him repeat the year.
Thus, Qiao Luo was still in first grade when Fu Shizhou started his first year of middle school. And when Qiao Luo started his first year of middle school, Fu Shizhou had already gotten into college.
Qiao Luo was so aggrieved that he could hardly go on. But reality was cruel and merciless.
Fu Shizhou had gotten excellent grades ever since he was little, but Qiao Luo's grades were no good. At one point, he feared he wouldn't even be able to test into the high school affiliated with his middle school.
When Qiao Luo's high school entrance exam scores came out, he found that he'd passed with the bare minimum. He was so elated that he couldn't stop bouncing up and down, and he called Fu Shizhou right away to ask for a reward.
"I got into your high school. My mom and dad said we're going out to eat, and we're inviting Grandpa Fu too. Are you coming?"
Fu Shizhou coldly answered, "What's so impressive about that? Not going."
Qiao Luo felt aggrieved all over again. He sulked for a while and gloomily uttered, "Oh. Alright. I'll hang up now."
Fu Shizhou let out an unnatural-sounding cough and squeezed out a few more words: "That's. Well, anyway. Congrats. Go ahead, hang up."
After saying that, he hung up first.
The perfunctory 'congrats' wasn't able to save Qiao Luo's plummeting mood. He was down in the dumps all throughout dinner. Grandpa Fu was the first to understand what was wrong. He instantly started to reassure Qiao Luo without missing a beat:
"Shizhou says he's been busy with his graduation internship lately. He couldn't make it back, but he told me to order a cake for Luoluo to celebrate. I forgot to tell you, Luoluo. This cake is from your Zhouzhou-gege."
Qiao Luo was already sixteen years old. He wasn't as easily deceived as a three-year-old child, and he knew this cake didn't have even the slimmest connection to Fu Shizhou. But he still scooped a big bite into his mouth and said, "Thank you, Grandpa Fu."
Mama Qiao smiled and said, "Shizhou is already in college. I thought the boys would drift apart now that they aren't able to see each other so often."
"Our Luoluo has loved clinging to Shizhou ever since he was little," Grandpa Fu said. "I'm glad. They'll always have each other's company."
Then he looked to Qiao Luo and added, "Isn't that right, Luoluo?"
Qiao Luo sullenly thought, It's not like he likes me.
But after dinner, they got home to find a car parked outside Grandpa Fu's house. It was an extremely familiar-looking car, identical to the one Fu Shizhou drove.
Through the windshield, a little dinosaur with an enormous tail could be seen dangling from the rearview mirror, swaying through the air.
Qiao Luo could have recognized that dinosaur anywhere. He'd personally selected and bought it.
That had been during Fu Shizhou's second year of college. He'd just gotten his driver's license and bought a car. Qiao Luo had instantly run out to pick an ornament for the rearview mirror, proudly shoving it into Fu Shizhou's hands.
"This dinosaur's tail is long, and Grandpa Fu says I'm your little tail. Your little tail can't follow you now, so you have to think of me whenever you look at this dinosaur."
At the time, Fu Shizhou had pulled a face and rejected the gift. "It's pretty ugly."
Qiao Luo shamelessly argued, "Luoluo is cute, but you can't take Luoluo with you—aiya, it is pretty ugly compared to Luoluo. But it has a tail! A tail!"
Fu Shizhou looked as though he were barely tolerating the presence of a mentally deficient person. "Other people hang up teru teru bozu or good fortune signs, and you want me to hang up this hideous dinosaur? I've got a brand new car! Qiao Luo, what are you thinking?"
Qiao Luo took the dinosaur back and scrutinized it for a long moment. Meekly and glumly, he echoed, "It's really hideous?"
Fu Shizhou had already finished ridiculing the thing. He took it back in the end and said, "Forget it, forget it. I'll take it."
Judging by the disgust that had come over Fu Shizhou's face at the time, Qiao Luo had figured the little hanging ornament would be stuffed into some dark corner, never to see the light of day again. He never imagined Fu Shizhou would really hang it up.
Qiao Luo was instantly overcome by jubilation. He charged forward like he was three years old all over again, racing towards Fu Shizhou after school. He didn't hesitate to fling himself headfirst into Fu Shizhou's arms.
"You came back!"
By then, Qiao Luo was already 1.7 meters tall. He was no longer a little dango who was practically the size of a pea. That tackle had almost been enough to make Fu Shizhou stagger. Once Fu Shizhou steadied himself, he glared at Qiao Luo and demanded, "Can you calm down a little?"
Qiao Luo rubbed against Fu Shizhou's chest like a deliriously happy puppy. "I missed you, okay?"
Fu Shizhou was borderline pissed.
What's up with this little kid? he thought. Oh, so he gets into high school and suddenly thinks he can do anything he wants? What's with this 'you' business? He called out 'Zhouzhou-gege', 'Zhouzhou-gege' with every breath he took when he was little, and now he's dropped all that to call me 'you'?!
If it was going to be like that, Fu Shizhou shouldn't have rushed back in the middle of preparing for his internship just because he couldn't forget that sullen, pitiful voice on the phone!
Fu Shizhou coldly pushed Qiao Luo back, making him stand on his own two feet. He didn't pay him any more mind before turning to Grandpa Fu and Qiao Luo's parents. When he looked over at them, Fu Shizhou softened his expression and greeted them much more politely.
"Uncle, Auntie. Luoluo did a good job on his exams. Congratulations."
Before Papa Qiao even said anything, Qiao Luo stuck his little face into Fu Shizhou's line of vision again. He practically had two words printed across that face of his:
Fu Shizhou regarded him silently for a moment, then grabbed the collar of his shirt. "Come upstairs with me. I have something for you."
Qiao Luo instantly glued himself to Fu Shizhou again. He was just a step away from climbing onto Fu Shizhou's back and asking to be carried upstairs. Turning back for just a moment, he called out to his parents, "I'm staying! I'm staying here!"
That was nothing out of the ordinary; Qiao Luo's parents were extremely accustomed to his habits. Whenever summer break or winter break rolled around, or whenever Fu Shizhou came back from college to pay Grandpa Fu a visit, Qiao Luo's parents could forget about Qiao Luo staying at home. He would cling to Fu Shizhou like his life depended on it.
And so, Papa Qiao and Mama Qiao went home by themselves to enjoy a night in their two-person world.
Without the adults hanging around, Qiao Luo became even more shameless in his delight. He plastered himself to Fu Shizhou's side, refusing to let go, and grumpily pestered, "Why don't you ever, ever, ever come home?"
There it was again. 'You'!
Fu Shizhou was even more irritated now. He swept his gaze over Qiao Luo, then dealt him a crushing blow: "I'm not coming back over summer break either."
Qiao Luo stared at him, stupefied. "Huh? Then what about me?"
Fu Shizhou only looked at him, saying nothing.
Qiao Luo's aggrievement rose again. "My mom says she's taking me on a trip over summer break this year. I wanted you to come with me."
Fu Shizhou brought out a big box and set it down at Qiao Luo's feet. At the same time, he staunchly refused, "Not going."
Then he opened the box, revealing a neatly organized collection of books, including one thick, brand new volume.
"All my old notes from school are in here. You can refer to them and learn from them. And this one—" Fu Shizhou pointed out the thick, new book on top of the others. "—is a present I picked out for you, as a congratulations for getting into a prep school."
Qiao Luo's future was bleak—the new and unused book was a copy of the famous 'National College Entrance Exams - Study Guide & Practice Tests'.