WITHDRAWAL

Chapter 17

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Qiao Luo's temper was boiling over.

Fu Shizhou had known Qiao Luo since the kid was three. From then until now, at the age of seventeen, Qiao Luo had always stuck to Fu Shizhou like glue. Whenever they sat at the same table to eat, Qiao Luo would insistently sit right next to him. When Qiao Luo had been smaller, he would sometimes even insist on being held by Fu Shizhou while they ate. What Qiao Luo liked, what Qiao Luo didn't like—Fu Shizhou knew just as much as Qiao Luo's parents about all that.

However, when Fu Shizhou and Qiao Luo emerged from the study to eat, Qiao Luo plopped right down in the seat between his mom and Old Man Fu. The old man and Fu Shizhou could only stare blankly at each other.

Old Man Fu froze for a moment, facing his grandson with a half-forced smile. Then he picked up a piece of fish maw meat with his chopsticks, placing it in Qiao Luo's bowl—that had always been Fu Shizhou's job in the past.

Qiao Luo ate silently. Meanwhile, Fu Shizhou could barely make himself eat at all.

Just last night, the little brat had promised so softly and sweetly that he wouldn't date early. And now he was raising hell on earth.

Fu Shizhou absently drank his soup, nearly choking on a mouthful. He coughed and sputtered, then wiped his mouth clean as he said to Old Man Fu, "Grandpa, I'm going back to school tonight. Is there anything you need me to do at home before I go?"

Old Man Fu had two housekeepers helping out at home—one auntie and one young man, just to make sure Old Man Fu would have everything he needed. What could he possibly need Fu Shizhou for?

So the question wasn't the important part of what Fu Shizhou had said. The important part was that he was going back to school.

"You go ahead," Old Man Fu said, playing along. "What would I need you to do?"

Qiao Luo was still eating silently. He polished off one bowl of rice in no time at all, and he didn't need his mom's help to get up and grab seconds from the kitchen.

Everyone at the table could tell that something was wrong. Mama Qiao used the opportunity created by Qiao Luo's departure to ask, "What happened? Are you boys fighting?"

"I provoked him," Fu Shizhou said. "It was my mistake."

Old Man Fu pulled a sullen face and scolded, "How old are you! How could you still bully Luoluo? Unreliable!"

Qiao Luo came back and continued to pick at his food.

A little kid throwing a tantrum was no big deal, and Qiao Luo and Fu Shizhou were normally on such good terms. Mama Qiao didn't pay any more attention to Qiao Luo's bad mood. She suddenly remembered something she wanted to discuss:

"Shizhou, you're so busy with school, and you already spent all day with our Luoluo today. We just talked about it, and we decided that I or Luoluo's dad can pick him up from school from now on. Shizhou, you don't have to make the trip. We're quite far from your school, it'll be too tiring for you."

Fu Shizhou glanced at Qiao Luo, who was eating with his face buried in his bowl, only showing Fu Shizhou the top of his head. After a moment, he calmly answered, "Sure, that works."

Qiao Luo slammed his chopsticks down on the table with a resounding CLACK. His rage rolled over the table, startling the other four people present, and his hand started to ache with the force he'd used.

He fixed his furious glare on Fu Shizhou. He glared and glared until the corners of his mouth sagged. His anger deflated, and he could only dejectedly mumble, "But you already promised me…"

Mama Qiao reached over and patted him on the head. "Your gege's school is so far away. Don't you know how exhausting it would be for him to pick you up? Be good."

No one even tried to comfort him. Qiao Luo had to try to quell his anger all by himself.

He gave Fu Shizhou a pitiful look and tried to bargain: "Can you at least pick me up for a while? Or can you choose a day of the week, and pick me up once a week?"

Fu Shizhou had no defense mechanism when it came to Qiao Luo. His heart instantly softened. However, he kept his expression tightly controlled. He didn't look at Qiao Luo's face, which was scrunched up into a little knot of aggrievement. He addressed Qiao Luo's mother directly:

"I can manage for a while, I'm not too busy right now. How about I pick Luoluo up until the police catch those thugs? If anything happens again, we can't let Uncle get into a fistfight with them, right?"

Papa Qiao wasn't exactly the grandmaster of his art, but he had a bit of fame. It really would have been unseemly for him to fight a bunch of hooligans on the street.

And so, it was decided.

Fu Shizhou still went back to his university that night. Qiao Luo had just finished throwing a fit, so he was a little too embarrassed to whine and plead for Fu Shizhou to stay. He could only watch sadly as Fu Shizhou drove away in the car that was still adorned with the ugly dinosaur from Qiao Luo.

After living in the lap of luxury for one night, it was hard to adjust to a normal life again. Qiao Luo dejectedly applied his own medicine that night before wrapping himself up in his covers, but he couldn't fall asleep.

He wasn't going to be excused from school again the next day. He would have to get up at six the next morning, but he just couldn't bring himself to feel the slightest bit sleepy. He kept thinking that Fu Shizhou had gone back to his university to meet up with that beautiful shi'jie of his.

He was worried that he might not get a wake-up call the next morning. He was worried that he might be late.

First he was stressed out, and then he spaced out. Then, his mind went completely blank. He grabbed the pillow Fu Shizhou had used last night and hugged it tightly. It was only then that he finally managed to fall asleep.

As a result, Fu Shizhou had to call three times the next morning before he managed to wake Qiao Luo up.

Qiao Luo was still wrapped up in his covers, still hugging that pillow. He mumbled blearily, "I thought you weren't gonna bother with me anymore."

The little brat had clearly been the one throwing a fit yesterday, and now he was flinging a pot of guilt at Fu Shizhou?

Fu Shizhou was a bit pissed, and a bit amused. He coldly stated, "Hurry up and get out of bed. Go wash up."

"Oh," Qiao Luo muttered.

Fu Shizhou fell silent for a moment, but ultimately he couldn't resist. He asked, "Do your legs still hurt?"

If only he'd held it in, all would have been well. But that question, once asked, brought him a world of trouble. Qiao Luo instantly started whining and complaining. He was clearly still drowsy and aggrieved as he mumbled, "My legs hurt, and my heart hurts. You said you would leave, and then you just left! You didn't look after me, you didn't comfort me. It hurts so bad I could die!"

Fu Shizhou was silent for another beat. "…what are you fussing about now?"

Qiao Luo offered an olive branch: "Comfort me. Then I won't fuss anymore."

Fu Shizhou was gripping his phone so tightly that his fingers had started to go white. If he started comforting Qiao Luo, he would never be able to stop. He could only steel his resolve and icily redirect the conversation: "Don't act so spoiled. Get up."

"Oh," Qiao Luo muttered again. Reluctantly, he added, "Fine. Then I'll hang up now."

Fu Shizhou let out a breath of relief. His voice softened a little as he said, "Go on. I'll pick you up from school tonight."

 

Qiao Luo's dance classes ended at 8:30 PM. Since it was his first time picking Qiao Luo up, Fu Shizhou arrived a little early. He stopped by a convenience store along the way and brought Qiao Luo a carton of milk.

Qiao Luo would've been practicing all night. Fu Shizhou was afraid he would be hungry.

And Fu Shizhou made sure to pick up low-fat milk. Qiao Luo cared a lot about his weight, always worrying his figure wouldn't be acceptable in his field.

Fu Shizhou poured the milk into a thermos, too. He was worried about Qiao Luo getting a stomachache if he drank anything too cold.

Qiao Luo was so delicate and finicky, and half the blame lay with Fu Shizhou. He was the one who'd spoiled the kid.

As Qiao Luo's class drew to a close, Fu Shizhou sent him a WeChat message to let him know that he was already parked nearby. Then Fu Shizhou gave it some thought and started to worry that Qiao Luo wouldn't be able to find his car. He sent another text, telling Qiao Luo to message him after getting out of class. Fu Shizhou would go meet him at the door.

Over ten minutes later, Qiao Luo messaged back. His first message was a 'flying glomp' reaction meme. Then he wrote: I'm done!

Fu Shizhou pursed his lips, subduing a faint smile. The little brat was all energetic again.

 

Qiao Luo truly was elated. He'd completely forgotten about the little bit of grief he'd felt a day go. He changed out of his practice clothes, grabbed his backpack, and started running for the exit, like the human version of the 'flying glomp' reaction meme he'd used just a moment ago.

But when he reached the mouth of the stairway, someone called out to him.

It was the girl who'd given him a love letter and indirectly caused him to be attacked.

The girl had also changed out of her practice clothes. She was wearing a white knitted dress and a pristine pair of sneakers. She hugged a box of cookies to her chest, and she had embarrassment and shame written all over her face as she said, "Qiao Luo, I'm so sorry. I caused a lot of trouble for you. Those people… I don't know how I provoked them.

"My mom made these cookies. She told me to give them to you as an apology gift."

Her voice was heavy with guilt when she repeated, "I'm so sorry!"

Qiao Luo wasn't the petty sort who could hold a grudge, and he was as much of a gentleman as Papa Qiao. He couldn't bear to see the girl suffer so much from her guilt, so he accepted her apology gift. After thinking for a moment, he warned, "Make sure you don't ever provoke them again."

The girl nodded vigorously and said, "My dad is coming to pick me up. You should get someone from your family to pick you up too."

Qiao Luo thought of Fu Shizhou right away, and he instantly lost his interest in continuing that conversation. But he couldn't be impolite, so he said, "My gege is coming to pick me up."

Then he turned and found the tall and handsome Fu Shizhou standing right in front of the front doors.

Qiao Luo's eyes instantly brightened. When he heard the girl say 'bye', he called back a quick 'bye' to her as well, then sprinted towards Fu Shizhou.

Fu Shizhou… was wearing a somewhat unsightly expression.

The stairs faced the doors to the building, giving Fu Shizhou a perfect view of Qiao Luo and that girl chatting as they descended. The angle was just right. If Fu Shizhou had been holding a camera, he could have caught some footage that would have been right at home in a schoolyard rom-com movie.

The trendy, fashionable sort.

And so, when Qiao Luo was still a few steps away from him, Fu Shizhou turned. He affected a cold and haughty disposition as he led the way outside, making his way back to his car in a few long strides.

Qiao Luo wasn't sure where this mood was coming from. He called out, "Zhouzhou-gege?"

Fu Shizhou started the car and passed the thermos of milk to Qiao Luo. "Put on your seatbelt."

Qiao Luo obediently buckled up. After strapping himself in, he looked over at Fu Shizhou again. Fu Shizhou's lips were pursed tightly with displeasure, pressed into a thin, flat line.

Weakly, Qiao Luo asked, "You're unhappy?"

Fu Shizhou pulled out of his parking space and said, "It's nothing. Drink your milk."

Qiao Luo blinked at him a few times. He quietly drank several mouthfuls of milk before a sudden bolt of realization flashed through his mind.

He held out the box of cookies like he was making a divine offering—of course, unbeknownst to him, he was also offering up the incriminating evidence in this case against him. Sweetly, and even a little proudly, he offered, "You can have a cookie, okay?"

Fu Shizhou's back was ramrod straight with anger. He nearly slammed on the gas and sent them barreling into traffic. He had to pinch his thigh to calm himself before he refused, "No, I don't want any. You shouldn't eat too much of that either. There are too many calories in those things."

Qiao Luo didn't usually eat cookies, but when he saw that Fu Shizhou's expression was still darkening, he tried to make things better—though, of course, he only managed to make things worse.

He picked up a cookie and bit into it before commenting, "It's pretty good, not too sweet. Maybe these don't have all that many calories. Have a taste~"

Fu Shizhou's gaze skimmed over Qiao Luo, who had practically climbed over to the driver's side of the car. He took in the sight of Qiao Luo's slender, pale fingers and the half-finished cookie that Qiao Luo had bitten into.

He paused for a moment, then dipped his head and took the rest of that cookie into his mouth.

…he took the rest of that cookie. That Qiao Luo had bitten. Into his own mouth.

It really wasn't too sweet.

Fu Shizhou chewed a few times before he said, "Sit properly. Finish your milk."

And then, resignedly, he accepted the fact that this little brat was just a bit of an idiot. If Qiao Luo was really dating already, why would he care whether or not the gege from the neighbor's house showed up at his coming-of-age ceremony?

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Chapter 17

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