The real coming-of-age gift Fu Shizhou had prepared for Qiao Luo was a tailored suit.
Qiao Luo didn't even know how to tie a tie. He shuffled over to Fu Shizhou as soon as he put on the suit, sticking out his neck and commanding, "Boyfriend! Tie the tie!"
Fu Shizhou wrapped his arms around Qiao Luo and pulled him closer, guiding Qiao Luo to turn and stand before him. He demonstrated the process for Qiao Luo, patiently teaching him the steps one at a time.
Qiao Luo didn't hear a single word of it. He just gazed up adoringly at Fu Shizhou. Words of praise escaped from his mouth, seemingly of their own volition: "You're so handsome…"
Even if Qiao Luo said those words a hundred times, Fu Shizhou's heart would skip a beat every time he heard them.
His hands paused for a moment. He flew through the final steps in the blink of an eye and asked, "You got it?"
Qiao Luo pouted and complained, "I don't need to learn to do this. When I need a tie, you can just help me tie it."
This kind of talk, which was rich with the implication that Qiao Luo would rely on him for a lifetime, was very welcome to Fu Shizhou's ears.
"I suppose that works," he said.
Qiao Luo loved shoving off. He ran into the walk-in closet and struck several poses in front of the mirror, checking himself out as he stroked the tie Fu Shizhou had knotted for him. He spent a long while fawning over himself before excitedly running back over to Fu Shizhou and asking, "Do I look good?"
Fu Shizhou deliberately teased him: "You're alright, I guess."
Qiao Luo threw his arms around Fu Shizhou's neck and kissed him on the lips, clinging as he asked, "What about now?"
Fu Shizhou avoided the question. He reached into his pocket and took out a pair of cufflinks. They were very, very similar to the pair Qiao Luo had once gotten him. As he helped Qiao Luo put them on, he said, "Alright. Your first pair of cufflinks, your first suit, and your first tie all came from me. I even personally tied your necktie for the first time, with my own two hands."
The gifts he'd prepared were both thoughtful and meaningful. Qiao Luo studied the familiar-looking cufflinks and quickly realized their significance. "You bought the new springtime design from this brand? These are from the same line as the ones I bought for you."
"Of course," Fu Shizhou said. "The two of us are a set. Shouldn't we wear couples' accessories?"
Qiao Luo instantly answered, "We should, we should!"
Then his voice filled up with regret and pity as he murmured, "But I won't have any chances to wear a suit. I want to wear it so bad."
Fu Shizhou told him to go change out of the suit, then he added, "You'll get the chance. Next month, you'll come to a wedding with me."
Qiao Luo whipped his head around and recklessly blurted out, "Huh? You're proposing to me?"
Fu Shizhou was silent for a moment. "…it's my shi'jie's wedding. The one whose avatar you saw before. The one you said was good-looking."
His tone grew a little more grave at this point, like he was settling an old score. "That shi'jie is getting married."
Fu Shizhou's shi'jie wasn't the only one entering a new chapter in life.
On a certain day, in the middle of the night, Yu Ziheng quietly opened up the group chat with his 'boy band'. It was the dead of night in China—three in the morning, to be precise—when he sent over an affectionate selfie with him and a beautiful foreign woman.
Along with the grand declaration: I've shed my single status!
Fu Shizhou was still shouldering the burden of waking up his little boyfriend every morning. He was the first to wake up and see this message, so he stuck his own foot in and wrote:
Congrats @Yu, I'll take this opportunity to introduce my partner too. I won't send a photo, you've already met. It's that little friend named Qiao Luo. He'll be my family from now on.
After sending out that grand declaration, Fu Shizhou guiltlessly messaged Qiao Luo to make sure he'd gotten to school safely. Then he went back to his dorm room and took a nap.
When he got up again at eight in the morning, his WeChat group chat had imploded.
[Handsome Chub]: Qiao Luo… THE Qiao Luo?
[ZouX]: He is still a child!!!
[Handsome Chub]: Isn't the more important thing that he's… a he?
[Yu]: love is love.2
[Handsome Chub]: You speak Chinese to me right now.
[Yu]: I support my brother. Please don't discriminate against homosexuals.
[Handsome Chub]: When was I discriminating against anyone? I was just expressing my surprise.
[ZouX]: FU SHIZHOU, SHOW YOUR FACE!!!
After Fu Shizhou finally had enough of his nap, he belatedly responded: Here I am.
Zhaozi had a lot to say, and none of it was especially gentle. He sent over a huge wall of text:
Oh my fucking god, I want to fucking beat you to death, you fucking rainbow. We agreed to go on a trip together and bring our family members, and I'd planned on giving you all a nice surprise… no, a frightful shock! But you… all of you… one after another, what kind of scandalous storms are you kicking up?!
Fu Shizhou instantly picked out the important part of that tirade. He echoed:
A frightful shock?
Zhaozi took a deep breath on his end of the chat and composed a second wall of text:
My girlfriend… is a postdoc researcher from a field related to mine. Five years older than me. I thought it would be a huge shock that I'd become her sweet little puppy, but you people! Yu Ziheng got himself a hot foreign girlfriend. Fine. Fine! But then YOU! FU SHIZHOU! You got yourself a MAN?!
[Handsome Chub]: That's true. Compared to him, the two of you have truly insignificant news.
Fu Shizhou seemed calm on the outside, but he actually wasn't overly optimistic about his chances of being accepted by the masses.
He and Qiao Luo were together. He could forget about other people, but he couldn't hide it from these three brothers of his. They wouldn't be able to hide their relationship from Papa Qiao and Mama Qiao either; that would be way too hard on the little brat.
And so, he typed in a question:
Forget about significant or insignificant. What's the verdict, brothers? I'm bent. Are my partner and I still invited on your summer vacation trip?
[Yu]: I'm just messing with you. I'll see you there, I want to talk to you about joining our company.
[ZouX]: I'm just messing with you. I hope my mom will see that you're gay and won't mind that I brought home an older woman.
[Handsome Chub]: I'm just messing with you. You were the first to call me Handsome Chub, I'm still so emotional.
[ZouX]: But quit the 'my partner and I' talk. You can't get your licenses, and you're already talking like you're married.
The smidge of worry in Fu Shizhou's chest dissipated. He relaxed and started joking with them: Not being able to get our marriage licenses is pretty nice. It means once we confess, we're together for the rest of our lives.
[Handsome Chub]: ……
[Yu]: Tsk. A romantic, huh?
Fu Shizhou stopped paying attention to the commotion in that group chat. He gathered up his things and got ready to head out to the research lab to work. Not counting Gramps, this was his first step out of the closet. He was in a very good mood throughout the rest of the day.
That night, he drove back home to pick Qiao Luo up from his dance classes. His shi'jie's wedding would be taking place over the weekend, and he would be taking Qiao Luo with him.
On the road, after picking Qiao Luo up, Fu Shizhou suddenly remembered he'd forgotten to buy red envelopes for the wedding gift. So he took a detour and stopped at the supermarket to pick some up.
Qiao Luo hadn't had any snacks in ages. When they passed the snack aisle, he wanted everything. And so, he started a tally with Fu Shizhou: "I want chips, so that's one kiss that you owe me. And I want duck wings, so that's another kiss that you owe me. I want green plums, so that's another kiss…"
There were towering shelves on either side of them, and no one else was nearby at the moment. Fu Shizhou stopped their shopping cart and reached up to grab some mineral water from the highest shelf. Fluidly, he tugged Qiao Luo close in the same instant and pressed a swift kiss to his lips.
"Be quiet," he said.
Qiao Luo immediately became docile. He quietly slipped his hands onto the grip of their shopping cart, underneath Fu Shizhou's own hands. Inside the cart, there were lots of little cartons of low-fat milk as well as various fruits that weren't too high in sugar.
It was Friday, and there was a promotion going on. Lots of people were in line at the checkout counters. Qiao Luo moved everything from their cart onto one of the counters, then grabbed a partition and inched their stuff forward bit by bit as the line moved up.
They were nearly at the register when he suddenly stopped.
Next to the register, there was usually a display with some chewing gum, chocolates, and… condoms.
Qiao Luo quietly snuck a few glances at the display, then twisted his head around to look at Fu Shizhou.
Fu Shizhou was in the middle of replying to some WeChat messages. The other three in that group chat were acting up again. They were just in the middle of debating where they should go for their summer trip. Fu Shizhou chimed in with one request: You guys pick the place, but leave the time to me. The one from my family is still in school. We'll have to plan the trip around his schedule.
The other three all remarked that they wanted to beat the PDA out of him. Fu Shizhou bantered with them for a little while longer before lifting his head to look up at Qiao Luo. He looked up just in time to see Qiao Luo snatch his hand back from some display shelf and shove whatever he'd grabbed into their pile of stuff, hiding it well.
Fu Shizhou was silent.
He would have to teach the little brat a lesson.
1. ZouX is Zhaozi-ge. Zhaozi (罩子) is his nickname, but his real surname is Zhao (赵), which looks like the character for 'zou' (走) with an 'x'. So his WeChat username is '走X'.
2. Yu Ziheng writes this in English.
Handsome Chub, first one to shed the single status. Zhaozi, hooked up with an older woman. Yu Ziheng, struck up an international relationship. Fu Shizhou… fell in love with a man.