WITHDRAWAL

Chapter 24

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The New Year's break lasted only three days. After those three days passed, Qiao Luo went straight back to school.

But Fu Shizhou had taken an extra four days off, spending a full week with his grandpa before coming home.

The old man didn't recognize anyone anymore. He held Fu Shizhou's hand and called him 'Wei Yuan', like he was gazing upon a treasure. He insistently offered many pieces of sesame cake to Fu Shizhou, and he apologized over and over and over again. In the end, when Fu Shizhou had to leave, the old man cried like a little child who was only a few years old.

Fu Shizhou knew this wasn't because the old man was sad to see his grandchild go. It was because the old man had mistaken him for a Fu Weiyuan who was still in his twenties.

Fu Shizhou left with discomfort in his chest. After flying home, he didn't even bother dropping off his luggage at his university. He instantly called a cab and headed out to Qiao Luo's school, and when Qiao Luo flew into his arms, he hugged him back and swept him off his feet right away.

Though it looked a little strange, it wasn't unheard of for boys with a brotherly bond to share such an embrace after a long time apart.

More importantly, Fu Shizhou didn't even care if people saw or watched. He only wanted to hold Qiao Luo.

Qiao Luo didn't know anything. He was almost stupidly giddy. By the time Fu Shizhou set him back down, his jubilant little face was ruddy with color. Proudly, he asked, "Did you miss me to death?"

Fu Shizhou had his luggage in one hand. He took Qiao Luo's backpack and set it down on his suitcase, then took Qiao Luo's hand in his other. He calmly answered, "Mm, I missed you. So I didn't go back to school to get my car. I'll have to call a cab to take you home."

Qiao Luo laced their fingers together and whispered, "Let's take the subway. On my way to school, I've seen boys wrap their girlfriends up in their arms on the train. I want you to wrap me up too. Okay?"

Fu Shizhou rapped his knuckles against Qiao Luo's forehead. "You're so young, and you're already sneaking peeks at other couples?"

Of course, Fu Shizhou would still obligingly take Qiao Luo home on the subway.

Qiao Luo stuck out his tongue and quietly whined, "I'm so young, and I'm not just sneaking peeks at other couples. I've got my own relationship!"

Then, something seemed to occur to him all of a sudden. He tugged on Fu Shizhou's hand and asked, "Uh-oh! Does this count as dating early? Will you still come to my coming-of-age ceremony? You have to come, you can't not come! I'm dating early because of you, after all. This is… a scam! That's right, this is fraud!"

What kind of word choice was that?

Fu Shizhou grinned and asked Qiao Luo, "Luoluo, are you going to be able to you pass your end-of-term language test?"

Qiao Luo was immensely displeased by that question. He stubbornly insisted, "Whether I pass or not, you have to come to my coming-of-age!"

They reached the subway station. The two of them headed downstairs, and Fu Shizhou stopped one step below Qiao Luo on the escalator. With that step between them, they were the exact same height.

"I'll go," Fu Shizhou said. "I'll go as your family member. Deal?"

In their two months of dating, Fu Shizhou had never spoken as many affectionate words as he did today. Qiao Luo was thrilled beyond belief. As soon as they stepped off the escalator, he asked Fu Shizhou, "No one's here. Can you give me a kiss?"

Fu Shizhou pointed to the surveillance camera above them. "You want to be recorded?"

Qiao Luo didn't really want that at all. His face heated up.

 

After dropping Qiao Luo off at home, Fu Shizhou had to pay a visit to his own home.

Fu Shizhou's own romance was advancing so sweetly, but the solitary old man at home was probably in a rather poor mood.

Old Man Fu had done the math. He knew Fu Shizhou would be getting back that day, and his heart was full of worry and unease. He sat in the living room after abandoning his cell phone in the study on the second floor, acting like he wasn't the slightest bit anxious.

But his housekeeper saw right through him. That auntie watched the old man drift over to the front door and peer outside three times, before she finally urged, "Little Zhou has already been in college for so many years, you should be used to it by now, sir. Hurry up and come inside, don't stand by the door. You'll catch a chill."

The words 'Little Zhou' dragged Old Man Fu's train of thought to a time very, very far away. He thought back to the events of many years ago, to the years of him and Zhou Wanggui. Everyone had called out 'Little Zhou'; Old Man Fu was the only one who had been younger, and he was the only one who'd called out 'Zhou-ge'.

Back when he first brought Fu Shizhou back to his home, back when he first heard the child's name, he'd snuck into the bathroom and cried for a while.

Fu Shizhou… and the connection between Fu Weiyuan and Zhou Wanggui…

The old man thought back to Fu Shizhou's arrival in his life. Fu Shizhou had carried a letter with him, one for Fu Weiyuan. Back then, Zhou Wanggui's condition hadn't been so severe. He'd written:

Weiyuan… do you regret knowing me?

 

As soon as Fu Shizhou stepped into his house, he saw Gramps sitting on the couch, spacing out. He could tell the old man's mood wasn't very good. When the old man saw him, he discreetly scrubbed a hand over his own face and adopted a forced sort of calmness as he asked, "Wasn't your plane for this afternoon? You went to pick up Luoluo, didn't you? Tsk, tsk."

The grandpa and grandson were both caught up in the same piece of history. Although they'd experienced that history from two different perspectives, they both felt pretty miserable when the subject came to mind.

So Fu Shizhou revealed the truth: "Gramps, Luoluo and I are together now."

Old Man Fu curled and uncurled his fingers a few times. He gazed at that face that bore many similarities to Zhou Wanggui's face. After a long moment, he said, "Then treat him well."

Fu Shizhou always got the feeling that he was treated like Fu Weiyuan when he visited his blood-related grandpa. And here, when he returned to Gramps, he was treated like Zhou Wanggui.

He asked the housekeeper, who had stayed to look after the old man without going home for the holidays yet, to put on a pot of soup. After thanking her for everything, he gave her the rest of the day off.

Then he took Old Man Fu's hand and asked, "Gramps, have you decided? This year, will you go back to see my grandpa?"

Old Man Fu feigned a serious expression and said, "Of course. You ungrateful brat, you've gotten yourself a little boyfriend. Little old me is the only one who can go back now."

Fu Shizhou didn't poke any holes in the brave facade the old man was putting on. He helped Old Man Fu take his daily medicine, then said, "My grandpa's condition has worsened this year, and he isn't in very high spirits either. When I left today, he held onto my hand and kept saying…"

He clasped Old Man Fu's hands in his own. The old man was nearly eighty, after all. He really couldn't handle any major provocations. But it was also because the old man was nearly eight that Fu Shizhou had to say these things to him.

So, after a short pause, Fu Shizhou continued, "He said, 'Weiyuan, don't go.'"

Old Man Fu's eyes instantly reddened. He hurriedly shooed Fu Shizhou to the door. "Little rascal, who told you that you could call your grandpa by his name? Go, go, go. Our Luoluo must be missing you to death, you little brat. Hurry up and go help him with his homework."

Fu Shizhou set the old man's medicine box and a bowl of soup down on the coffee table. "Gramps, where's your cell phone? I'll bring it to you."

Old Man Fu clutched the armrest of the couch and said, "Upstairs in the study. Turn the TV on for me, I'll watch for a while. Don't disturb me when you get back tonight."

Fu Shizhou turned on the TV and placed the remote in Old Man Fu's hand. Then he fetched the old man's cell phone, plugged it into a portable charger, and set it down next to Old Man Fu as well.

When he went outside, he took out a cigarette.

He rarely ever smoked, and he'd never developed an addiction. The first time was during a programming competition. He'd been so sleepy that he could barely keep himself on his feet. A classmate had stuffed a cigarette into his hand, saying it would help him alleviate the drowsiness. After that, Fu Shizhou learned to smoke.

One cigarette later, Fu Shizhou glanced back at Old Man Fu in the living room. Then he found a piece of peppermint candy and crunched it between his teeth. He got out his own phone and sent a WeChat message to Qiao Luo:

Luoluo, sleeping?

Qiao Luo was still thinking about the moment Fu Shizhou had called him a 'family member'. He was still giddy over that, and he answered while sprawled out in bed:

Nope, not yet. Are you missing me?

Fu Shizhou could practically hear Qiao Luo's soft and sweet voice in his ear. The corners of his lips twitched up.

I just found a few leftover fireworks at my place, he wrote. Wanna sneak out and set them off?

Fireworks were strictly prohibited in the city. At most, people could wave around a sparkler or two. But Qiao Luo was extremely easily deceived. He zipped out of the house in an instant, wearing his fuzzy pajamas. His eyes flashed brightly as he asked, "Where are the fireworks?"

Fu Shizhou wrapped his arms around Qiao Luo and pulled him into an embrace. He lightly brushed his lips against Qiao Luo's and murmured, "Right here."

They really were right there. Fireworks burst in their hearts, one after another. Qiao Luo softly brushed his lips against Fu Shizhou's and said, "Then I want some more."

As he spoke, his lips parted the slightest bit. And in that moment, Fu Shizhou deepened their kiss.

Fu Shizhou had always protected Qiao Luo, and he always would. He didn't want to do too much too soon. He wanted to take things slow. But that day, he couldn't hold back any longer.

In that moment, his rationality shattered.

Qiao Luo had probably already gotten ready for bed. He'd brushed his teeth. The faint taste of jasmine sat on his tongue, soft and sweet.

The moonlight cascaded down from high above them. Glittering stars dotted the sky. The trees cast scattered shadows, like fireworks, over their frames.

When Fu Shizhou cupped a hand at the back of Qiao Luo's head, Qiao Luo felt like he'd been stunned. He didn't know how to do anything. He could only shift softly, slightly in Fu Shizhou's embrace. He could only squeeze his eyes shut tight. His lashes trembled, but his arms came up to wrap around Fu Shizhou's neck. He lightly tipped his head back, parting his lips further to receive Fu Shizhou's kiss.

When Fu Shizhou slipped his tongue past Qiao Luo's lips, Qiao Luo carefully, but curiously, answered the touch with the tip of his own tongue. He was like a deeply curious yet timid little animal, sticking its head out of its den to have a look around. Qiao Luo's curious, searching tongue only peeked out for an instant before retreating again.

He fully gave himself over to Fu Shizhou's touch. He took and sought every ounce of desire that oozed between them. He even let Fu Shizhou take charge of his breathing. He was so sweet and docile that one could easily get addicted to him.

This deep and sudden kiss, which seemed to last forever, was finally broken when Qiao Luo whimpered and gasped, not knowing how to breathe. He leaned against Fu Shizhou's chest, feeling his own legs going weak at the knees. His voice had become even softer than usual, like it was melting. Dizzily, he whined, "Why did you trick me into coming out here for a kiss?"

The poor mood that had come over Fu Shizhou as a result of his grandpas' story was finally purified by that kiss. Fu Shizhou stroked the back of Qiao Luo's head and breathed in the fresh scent of his soft hair.

"You're too sweet," he murmured. "I couldn't resist."

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