WITHDRAWAL

Chapter 28

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Fu Shizhou had told Qiao Luo's family that he would be spending Chinese New Year's with Old Man Fu, but in truth… he didn't go anywhere.

Many years had passed since Old Man Fu first brought him home, and they had developed a deep bond as grandfather and grandson. But that didn't mean that Fu Shizhou wasn't a scar on Fu Weiyuan's heart. It didn't mean that Fu Shizhou wasn't living proof of Zhou Wanggui's betrayal of their feelings.

Fu Shizhou didn't want to disrupt the two old men who had finally, after so long, undone the knots in their hearts.

Without much to do, Fu Shizhou worked on the mini programs he'd written for Qiao Luo. Qiao Luo had only played through 'New Year's Checkpoint No. 1', but there were actually checkpoints for Chinese New Year's, the Lantern Festival, and more. Fu Shizhou had already finished coding those little games.

On Chinese New Year's Eve, Fu Shizhou boiled a pot of store-bought dumplings for himself. He turned on the TV for background noise, but he didn't sit on the couch. He piled up a bunch of cushions and blankets on the rug in front of the coffee table, which was where he ate his New Year's Eve dinner alone.

The New Year's gala had yet to begin. A rebroadcast of last year's gala was playing on TV.

It was Fu Shizhou's first time spending Chinese New Year alone. He didn't really feel all that pitiful, but as he watched the program playing out on TV, he thought back to last year—Qiao Luo had brought him some dumplings from his own house. Fu Shizhou couldn't help but think that the night would have been even more perfect if the hugging pillow in his arms had been that soft and warm little brat instead.

With Qiao Luo on his mind, Fu Shizhou grabbed his phone from where it sat on the couch.

That most recent incoming message was one Qiao Luo had sent, with a photo of the spring couplet his grandpa had written. Fu Shizhou had answered, Looks good.

After that… well, there was no 'after that'.

Qiao Luo hadn't written to him in a full ten hours.

The last time they'd been apart was over the three-day New Year's break. Qiao Luo was clingy as hell; he practically had to hear from Fu Shizhou at least once per hour to survive.

How many months had they been together now? Was their honeymoon phase already over?

Fu Shizhou darkened his face and tossed his cell phone back onto the couch. He propped himself up with one arm on the floor and started to eat the oranges and dragonfruit he'd cut for himself earlier.

When he'd finished half the oranges, the cell phone on the couch started vibrating like crazy. Fu Shizhou cleaned his hands with a wet wipe and saw that Qiao Luo was inviting him to a voice chat.

Fu Shizhou answered. He'd only quietly said 'hey' when he heard a preemptive attack explode from Qiao Luo's end of the line:

"You actually didn't send me a single message all day! How dare you! Do you love me or not?!"

Fu Shizhou turned down the TV's volume and said, "Been busy. You didn't write to me either."

Qiao Luo huffed angrily. "We were visiting people today. I got to their house before I realized I left my phone behind. I was afraid you'd be worried about not being able to get in touch with me. I was scared to death! But you didn't even try to get in touch with me!"

Fu Shizhou choked and abruptly, firmly tried to change the subject: "Have you eaten yet?"

Qiao Luo dragged them right back to the subject at hand: "How could I eat? As soon as I got home, I ran out to the balcony to call you."

As though on cue, Mama Qiao called out for Qiao Luo to come eat. And so, Fu Shizhou said, "Go eat first."

Qiao Luo was reluctant to obey. He dawdled on the phone, not wanting to hang up. It was only when Mama Qiao came out to the balcony to find him that he said, "Wait for me to finish my call, okay? I'll be super quick."

Then, to Fu Shizhou, Qiao Luo said, "You really didn't miss me at all?"

On his end of the line, Fu Shizhou gripped the TV remote and flipped through several channels before he said, "I didn't not miss you. Hurry up and go eat. I'll be waiting to ring in the new year with you."

While Qiao Luo ate, Fu Shizhou happily tossed his own dishes into the sink and switched the TV channel back to CCTV-1. He was more than ready to ring in the new year with Qiao Luo, even with several thousand kilometers of distance between them.

Qiao Luo ate very quickly. Before the New Year's gala even began, he finished and sent Fu Shizhou another message.

The two of them had been together for a while now. Qiao Luo wasn't as shy as he used to be. He was no longer embarrassed about texting Fu Shizhou in front of his parents.

He multitasked that night, chatting with his family while scrolling through highlights from the gala on Weibo. Whenever he found something funny, he would forward it to Fu Shizhou and write, Hahahahaha.

The corners of Fu Shizhou's lips would quirk up at the sight of those 'hahaha' texts. His heart softened when he pictured the way Qiao Luo's shoulders would shake and shake when he laughed.

If Fu Shizhou took Qiao Luo into his arms at a time like that, Qiao Luo's soft hair would brush his chin, making his skin itch just the slightest bit.

Fu Shizhou hugged a cushion to his chest, just below his chin. Then he wrote back to Qiao Luo: Dumb-dumb.

By eleven that night, Qiao Luo was too tired to even laugh. He was too sleepy to keep typing, so he started sending Fu Shizhou audio clips instead. Softly, sweetly, and sleepily, he murmured, "Zhouzhou-gege, I'm so sleepy."

Fu Shizhou played that audio clip three times, then texted back: Go to sleep if you're sleepy.

After sending those words, he looked at his own message and got the feeling it was a bit too blunt. He recalled it and sent a new message instead: If you're sleepy, you should try to get some sleep.

Qiao Luo was still distracted, trying to do many things at once while drowsiness crept over him. He didn't get a chance to see the first message Fu Shizhou sent; he only saw that it had been recalled.

Instantly, he sent a reaction meme with the caption, 'Every time you recall a message, I feel like you're confessing to me.'

Fu Shizhou nearly laughed himself to tears. He answered, That's right. I was confessing to you.

Qiao Luo's soft and sweet voice drifted over on another audio clip: "Send me an audio clip, 'kay? Say something out loud."

Right after that clip, Qiao Luo sent a few more things that he definitely couldn't say out loud in front of his parents. He could only send them as text:

This is my message, so don't steal my idea.

A new year is here. This year, I'll still love you very, very much.

Fu Shizhou stared at those words for a long moment before he sent over an audio clip of his own: "Every year, from now on, I'll love you very, very much."

That message got Qiao Luo through the night, into the wee hours of morning. He managed to stay up long enough to say 'Happy New Year' to Fu Shizhou, and Fu Shizhou sent him the next mini program that he'd finished coding long ago—'New Year's Checkpoint No. 2'.

Qiao Luo was almost deliriously sleepy. He tried the game three times, but couldn't clear it. In the end, he sent Fu Shizhou a crying reaction meme and complained, "You're bullying me, I can't beat this one."

Fu Shizhou had already turned off the TV and gone upstairs to his bedroom. He sat on his bed and answered, Then try again tomorrow. Hurry up and get some sleep if you're sleepy.

Qiao Luo sent back an audio clip. He yawned at the start of it, then said, "Can't wait. What if you call me 'baobei' again? I won't be able to fall asleep if I think about that."

He was so sleepy that he couldn't keep his eyes open, but he still put on the spoiled act and whined, "Why don't you call me that now? Then I'll be able to sleep."

Fu Shizhou knew every single one of Qiao Luo's quirks, and he even recognized the way he breathed. Just listening to Qiao Luo now, Fu Shizhou knew he could fall asleep literally any second.

Fu Shizhou lay down in bed. He could almost imagine that Qiao Luo's scent still clung to his pillow. His heart softened.

He pressed his thumb to the dip between his brows and took two deep, slow breaths. In the dark, he silently moved his lips a few times. Just as he decided to reach for his phone and send an audio clip, Qiao Luo sent one over first.

Fu Shizhou moved his finger away from the button to record his own voice. He hit play on Qiao Luo's message first.

Qiao Luo's soft and sleepy voice was full of joy as he said, "Thank you, Zhouzhou-gege, for the New Year's money."

It seemed Qiao Luo had gotten through the game in the mini program after all. The program was set up to reward Qiao Luo with a red envelope after he cleared the task. The envelope was labeled 'New Year's Money', and the sum was 520 yuan.

Fu Shizhou changed what he'd wanted to say. He replied: "That New Year's money is from your boyfriend."

 

Translator's Notes:

In case there's any confusion with the timeline here, there was a three-day break for New Year's (as in, January 1st). Winter break comes after that and coincides with Chinese New Year (typically late-January/early-February).

Fu Shizhou went to visit Zhou Wanggui over the three-day New Year's break. He usually visits over winter break, but not this year.

This year, Fu Weiyuan is visiting Zhou Wanggui over winter break. (Which is why Fu Shizhou is home alone for Chinese New Year.)

Also, 520 means 'I love you'!

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