WITHDRAWAL

Chapter 12

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Most parents of high schoolers would urge their children to study well and provide an environment in which their children could focus on their schoolwork. But relatively few parents would focus, so early, on the details of higher education facilities and their child's career path.

The Qiao family fell into the category that looked towards the future very early on. Because of Fu Shizhou.

Fu Shizhou didn't just collect recruitment flyers from various universities with dance programs. He also researched the specific conditions and test score requirements of each program as well.

He did practically everything short of visiting each campus and checking their cafeterias to see which one had a menu most in line with Qiao Luo's tastes.

At the end of Qiao Luo's first year of high school, Fu Shizhou sorted through the colleges he'd collected information on and focused on the ones that were a good match for Qiao Luo's end-of-term test results. Then he paid a visit to Qiao Luo's homeroom teacher.

Fu Shizhou had a crystal clear understanding of Qiao Luo's options.

By the time Papa Qiao and Mama Qiao caught up with these events, Fu Shizhou and Qiao Luo's homeroom teacher had already come to a mutual understanding about Qiao Luo's academic standing.

Papa Qiao and Mama Qiao were extremely grateful to Fu Shizhou for doing all that, but of course they were also the slightest bit embarrassed at not quite having fulfilled their parental duty.

Fu Shizhou was also extremely embarrassed, and he felt a little bad for the secret little motives hidden in his heart as well.

Only that little idiot Qiao Luo, who didn't concern himself with any of this, was delighted. He profited without lifting a finger, and he was thrilled because starting from his second year of high school, he was able to leave school early, at four in the afternoon, to attend special dance practice lessons.

Fu Shizhou could finally relax a little. Qiao Luo had been at the bottom of his class rankings in middle school, but he hovered in the middle of the pack in high school. His future wasn't in imminent danger.

As Fu Shizhou started his graduate school studies, he also became so busy that the lines between day and night began to blur. He would often be debugging code until well past midnight. After trudging back to his dorm room for sleep, he would wake up punctually the next morning to get Qiao Luo out of bed.

Others suffered depressive episodes and mood swings as a result of their hidden feelings. Fu Shizhou just suffered sleep deprivation.

Then, somehow… something happened. Perhaps Qiao Luo finally grew a conscience and realized how much Fu Shizhou was worrying about him. Or perhaps the ren mai and du mai of his eight extraordinary meridians had finally opened.

Regardless of the reason, the result was that Qiao Luo actually managed to rank in the top 200 students of his grade after his second round of monthly exams in his second year of high school.

This was unprecedented.

Fu Shizhou received the news bright and early one morning. He cleared his schedule for that evening and did nothing except sit with his cell phone, waiting for the little brat to call and ask for a reward.

He figured he could nudge the brat towards asking for his PSP, which would give Fu Shizhou an excuse to 'reluctantly' make a trip home.

However, Fu Shizhou didn't receive a WeChat message from Qiao Luo. He received a call from Old Man Fu instead.

Old Man Fu got straight to the point: "Shizhou, something seems to have happened with Luoluo. I just saw the police come to his house. Would you come back to take a look?"

Fu Shizhou leapt to his feet in an instant. His eyebrows furrowed deeply, screwing together to bunch together between his eyes. He stuffed his car keys into his pocket, grabbed his coat, and headed out the door while saying into the phone, "Uncle Qiao and Auntie Qiao aren't home? Why should I go back?"

Old Man Fu could practically be heard rolling his eyes. "You won't come back? If you don't come back, you're going to lose your sweetheart!"

Fu Shizhou shot down the stairs in just a few steps. When he heard that, he nearly stumbled over his own feet. "Grandpa, what are you saying?"

Old Man Fu was an old man who'd seen everything there was to see in the world. "You like Luoluo, don't you? Don't put on that act with me. Hurry up and come see him."

At that critical moment, Fu Shizhou was so shocked by Old Man Fu's words that he nearly forgot how to open his car door. Once he settled in the driver's seat, he asked, "How did you know?"

"How did I know!" Old Man Fu echoed in a huff. He was nearly apoplectic. "When did you learn how to drive? After Luoluo lied about being sick when you started college! And when Luoluo got his high school entrance exams results, didn't you tell me you were in the middle of discussing an important contract? But you came back to see him, looking all stiff and disgruntled. And when he came back from his trip to Europe, you used me as an excuse to pick him and his parents up at the airport!

"Now, you're more obvious than ever. Luoluo is still in high school, and you're worrying more than his parents when it comes to his future. Little Qiao's folks even came to thank me, and I barely knew how to face them. My grandson has set his sights on their son, and they thanked me!"

The old man was panting by the time he finished his tirade. After catching his breath, he demanded, "You're in the car? How far have you gotten? Watch the road!"

Fu Shizhou was silent for a beat. "…just left the school. There's no traffic at night. I can be there in half an hour if I drive a bit fast."

But there was no pleasing the old man. He retorted, "You drive slow! It's not that urgent. Luoluo is fine! Just look at you, look how worried you are, and you still won't make your feelings clear? Every day, you pull that long face with Luoluo. You're just like your grandfather!"

Fu Shizhou drummed his fingers against the steering wheel as he waited for a red light to change. He was so worried that his heart was practically burning up in his chest. Helplessly, he said, "Gramps, don't take your anger out on me. Luoluo is only how old? What could I say to him now? It's not just that he's in high school. He sticks to me like glue. If I tell him I like him, and he doesn't feel that way about me, what then? It could affect his mood if I tell him now, and what if his mood affects his grades?"

There was nothing Old Man Fu could say to that. Half to himself, he muttered, "So you're just going to wait for him?"

The red light changed. Fu Shizhou put the car into motion again. "Gramps, I'm a lot like you… you waited for my grandfather for a lifetime. It's nothing for me to wait for Luoluo for a few years."

By the time Fu Shizhou got home, Papa Qiao and Mama Qiao were in the middle of sending the police off. Fu Shizhou just so happened to run into the departing officers.

That at least saved Fu Shizhou the need to find an excuse to pay the Qiao family a visit. The fire in his chest had scorched his heart. His hand even trembled when he locked up his car, but he still had to affect a perfectly calm and unflustered tone when he asked, "Uncle Qiao, Auntie Qiao? This… what is this?"

Neither of Qiao Luo's parents gave his sudden appearance much thought. They simply assumed Fu Shizhou had come back to visit Old Man Fu.

Mama Qiao's eyes were still red. "Luoluo was assaulted on the way home. We just made a police report."

Fu Shizhou couldn't keep his cool any longer, and he couldn't maintain his calm tone of voice either. His volume rose by several notches as he blurted out, "How's Luoluo? Hurt? Scared?"

"He isn't injured," Mama Qiao choked out. "But he got a pretty good scare."

Fu Shizhou followed them into the house, practically running to make his way towards Qiao Luo.

Qiao Luo was sitting on the couch in the living room. He was wrapped up in an electric blanket, holding a cup of warm milk. He sat quietly, serenely.

Fu Shizhou felt as though his heart were rolling back and forth over a bed of nails. The pain was so intense that he couldn't control his expression. When he approached and stooped down in front of Qiao Luo, he very much wanted to take him into his arms, but couldn't.

He could only murmur, as gently as possible, "Luoluo?"

As soon as he saw Fu Shizhou, the little brat started to act like the brat that he was. He didn't throw a fit, but he gazed at Fu Shizhou with his worryingly pale face until his eyes reddened.

"I was bullied…"

Just three little words. Every letter unfurled into a sharp, pointed needle that flowed into Fu Shizhou's ears and lanced through his body. One after another, those needles stabbed at his heart. The intense pain flowed from his chest to his extremities.

Fu Shizhou's heart ached so, so, so fiercely. He hesitated for a long moment before finally folding his hands over Qiao Luo's hands. While Qiao Luo held his cup, Fu Shizhou held his hands. He stroked his fingers over each of Qiao Luo's fingers as he soothed, "It's okay. You've already called the police. Drink your milk first. Be good."

The physical contact helped set Qiao Luo a little more at ease. He kept his hands in Fu Shizhou's as he slowly lifted his glass to drink.

Mama Qiao almost couldn't bear the sight. Her heart ached so fiercely.

Qiao Luo had come home with mud all over his body. His backpack straps had been ripped apart. He was in such a panicked state that he trembled all over. It was a long time before he managed to tell his parents, in wobbly bits and pieces, that he'd been accosted by some hoodlum.

Papa Qiao had called the police while Mama Qiao helped Qiao Luo take a bath and change his clothes.

But from start to finish, Qiao Luo's face had remained a ghastly white. He answered every question he was asked. He didn't cry, and he didn't throw a fit.

Now that Fu Shizhou was right there in front of him, Qiao Luo finally managed to cry. Everyone understood it was a good thing.

Mama Qiao struggled to make the request, but she did ultimately ask Fu Shizhou, "Shizhou, do you think… do you think you could possibly stay? Luoluo is so close to you…"

Fu Shizhou coaxed Qiao Luo into finishing his glass of milk and hurriedly answered, "I'll definitely stay. I'll make sure he gets some sleep. Auntie Qiao, don't worry. I'll pick him up from school in the future. I definitely won't let anything like this happen again."

As soon as he finished speaking, he lowered his gaze to Qiao Luo again. He held Qiao Luo's hands in his own and reassured, "Luoluo, don't be scared. Okay?"

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