Qiao Luo's days of being woken up by Fu Shizhou's voice weren't as blissful as he'd expected.
Knowing it was Fu Shizhou on the line, Qiao Luo wanted to tear himself out of bed and answer right away each morning. But that was hard. He simply couldn't fulfill his promise to pick up 'as soon as' Fu Shizhou called. Usually, it took two or even three calls from Fu Shizhou before Qiao Luo answered.
And after Qiao Luo did pick up… well, it was easy to imagine how bad Fu Shizhou's mood would be.
Qiao Luo was obviously in the wrong here, but he was shameless when it came to putting on the spoiled act in front of Fu Shizhou. Every single day, he would sleepily murmur in his hazy voice, "Tomorrow, 'kay? Tomorrow, I'll definitely pick up right away. I swear! Zhouzhou-gege, don't be mad~"
But tomorrow was always tomorrow.
Tomorrow would never come.
However, after suffering through a difficult month, Qiao Luo finally, delightedly welcomed his first school vacation.
A vacation meant he could sleep in, but it also meant he wouldn't get a phone call every morning.
Qiao Luo hugged his homework packet to his chest and bitterly contemplated the harsh realities of life.
Why couldn't he have his Zhouzhou-gege and sleep in?
Fu Shizhou seemed to have heard those lamenting thoughts of his. One day, he appeared in the living room of the Qiao family's house.
Qiao Luo was still at an age where his philosophy was: I'll play lots while I still can, and I only study because my teacher will scold me if I don't. He didn't take anything all that seriously yet, and he wasn't too concerned about the future.
Of course, if Qiao Luo didn't worry, someone else had to worry on his behalf.
This time, Fu Shizhou was visiting because Papa Qiao had asked him to come. (And perhaps a teensy bit because Fu Shizhou himself had wanted to come.) He'd brought lots of student recruitment pamphlets and fliers from various universities with strong dance programs, as well as materials on various other performing arts colleges.
It was obvious from just a glance that no effort had been spared to find the perfect fit for Qiao Luo.
Papa Qiao was actually a little embarrassed. "Luoluo's mother and I actually both have a basic understanding of performing arts colleges," he said. "I've been invited to speak as a guest professor before. But neither of us know as much about the details as you do."
"I've been through my college entrance exams already," Fu Shizhou reassured calmly, "and I know what sort of information an entrance exams candidate needs. Plus, with the way Luoluo sticks to me, I have to worry about these things."
Of course he had to worry about these things. He had very clear expectations for that little brat.
Fu Shizhou coughed once and silently wondered what the little brat was doing upstairs. Had he not heard when Fu Shizhou arrived?
Seemingly unperturbed, he calmly explained the examination process for prospective performing arts students. Then he asked, "We'll need to ask Luoluo whether he wants to aim for a performing arts school or a general university with special programs for performing artists, right?"
Qiao Luo was secretly playing video games in his bedroom. He had his console hidden under his English homework, and he had his math homework next to him as an additional prop.
When Mama Qiao knocked, she scared the life out of him. Qiao Luo swiftly hid his console and asked, "What! I got so close to figuring out this problem, and you interrupted me!"
Fu Shizhou had followed Mama Qiao to the door. He called out, "I came to talk to you about something."
Qiao Luo jumped with surprise.
He gave his desk a thorough sweep with his gaze and quickly grabbed a half-finished literature assignment. After plopping that down on top of his desk, he got up to open the door. "Zhouzhou-gege, how come you're back?"
Mama Qiao said, "Your Zhouzhou-gege is worried sick about you. Just look at your grades. Your father and I have discussed it, and we think you should specialize in dance."
Qiao Luo certainly didn't hate dancing. Even now, as a high school student who was constantly tired from day to night, he didn't forget the basics.
He tipped his little face up and looked towards Fu Shizhou. "Do dance students get out of early classes?"
In a rare show of patience, Fu Shizhou told Qiao Luo all about the process of taking his entrance exams and the follow-up steps that would ensue. After he finished his explanation, he asked, "Do you want to major in dance at a performing arts school, or do you want to attend a comprehensive university and specialize in dance?"
Qiao Luo looked at his parents. Then he looked at Fu Shizhou. Finally, he shook his head and sincerely admitted, "I don't know."
He settled his gaze on Fu Shizhou with an obvious plea for help in his eyes. As usual, he came to depend on Fu Shizhou. "I want to listen to you."
Fu Shizhou, hearing that in front of the little kid's parents, felt a little embarrassed. He earnestly coaxed, "This is something you should discuss with Uncle and Auntie. I can't make a decision like this for you."
Qiao Luo pursed his lips. "Oh…"
He actually had a vague, fuzzy idea forming in his heart, but at the time his full attention was on Fu Shizhou. "Then I'll talk to my mom and dad about it later! I have lots of stuff I want to talk to you about first."
Mama Qiao said, "Okay, you boys play. I'll head down to cook, and later we'll have Luoluo's papa call Uncle Fu over to eat with us."
As soon as Mama Qiao took her leave, Qiao Luo scooted over to Fu Shizhou. Qiao Luo opened his mouth, but before he could even speak, Fu Shizhou coldly accused, "You were playing video games in here?"
Qiao Luo jumped.
Instinctively, he said, "I wasn't…"
Fu Shizhou glared at him. "Have you forgotten what happens when you lie to me?"
Qiao Luo was instantly cowed. He petulantly tugged at Fu Shizhou's shirt sleeve and said, "I only played once, just today. I haven't even touched my console for a whole month until now. Really. I wouldn't dare lie to you."
Only a month had passed, but Qiao Luo's already small face had slimmed down even more. First years who just entered high school weren't all that busy. This must have been a result of Qiao Luo's lack of sleep.
Fu Shizhou was the sort of person who would break his own back to make sure Qiao Luo got a good night's rest. After Qiao Luo gazed up at him for a while, with a miserable look on his petite little face, Fu Shizhou's heart softened. He relented, though he kept his expression dark as he said, "Don't do it again."
Qiao Luo nodded wildly and started to sell the good boy act while trying to win himself some favors in return: "Why don't you take the console with you? You could come back once a month, and I wouldn't be so tempted to play the rest of the time."
He couldn't hide his ulterior motives from Fu Shizhou, but Fu Shizhou was willing to take the 'bait'. He said, "I suppose I could do that."
Qiao Luo turned over the tool in his latest crime—his PSP. Then he scooted over to Fu Shizhou's side again. In the past, he would have launched himself into Fu Shizhou's arms by now. But this time, for some reason that he couldn't quite grasp, he felt a little embarrassed.
As a result, he was on his best behavior that day. He sat across from Fu Shizhou, all sweet and docile, as he said, "I don't actually need to talk anything over with my mom and dad… I don't want to go to a performing arts school."
Papa Qiao and Mama Qiao were extremely famous professional dancers. If Qiao Luo wanted to follow in their footsteps, he probably would have had it easy.
Fu Shizhou, privately, also wanted Qiao Luo to make that choice. "Why? Don't you really like dancing?"
"It's not that I don't like it." Qiao Luo paused and gave it some serious thought. "You have to practice, perform, and compete as a dancer. That means I wouldn't be able to always stay with you. I feel like you're more important."
Fu Shizhou really, really wanted to remind him that, even if Qiao Luo didn't attend a performing arts school, they would—according to social norms—have to start their own families. In the future, the two of them wouldn't be able to stick together the way they did as kids.
However, when Fu Shizhou opened his mouth, the words on his tongue suddenly changed:
"Then make sure you study hard in your cultural classes."