WITHDRAWAL

Chapter 32

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The shi'jie's wedding was on a Sunday. It was all sun and clear skies that day, with bright lights spreading boundlessly into the distance.

Fu Shizhou didn't arrive too early or too late. His suit was a dark gray, while Qiao Luo's was a light, flaxen color. His physique, posture, and disposition were all excellent; he stood at Fu Shizhou's side like an upright young poplar. One of them was unflappably handsome, and the other brimmed over with youthful exuberance. At a glance, they basically crushed the dumpling-esque best man in terms of appearances.

The bride and groom had family members at the entrance, greeting guests as they arrived. When she saw the two of them, Fu Shizhou's shi'jie grinned and teased, "Tsk, here to steal the show?"

Fu Shizhou handed over the red envelope. "No, no, of course not. Shi'jie is so beautiful today. I wish you two a long, happy marriage."

There were still many other guests to greet. Fu Shizhou and his shi'jie only exchanged a few more words before an employee of the wedding planning company led Fu Shizhou and Qiao Luo to their seats.

Qiao Luo tugged on Fu Shizhou's sleeve and whispered, with a hint of jealousy, "You didn't even praise me."

Fu Shizhou pinched the back of his hand and said, "Catch the bride's bouquet today and marry me next year."

Qiao Luo's face instantly turned red. He shook off Fu Shizhou's hand and ran over to the desserts table.

But, of course, he couldn't really have more than a bite or two. After taking a lap around the desserts table, he trudged back, still red-faced.

Fu Shizhou saw that his little face was still red when he returned, and he assumed the sun was getting to Qiao Luo. He waved Qiao Luo over and had him sit next to him, so that he could block the sun.

Qiao Luo sat quietly for a while, then suddenly tugged at Fu Shizhou's sleeve again and whispered in his ear, "If you propose to me, I'll say yes."

Fu Shizhou rubbed his soft, silken hair that had been warmed by the sun. Then he lowered his head and whispered back in Qiao Luo's ear, "That's what I brought you here to show you. What other people have, you'll have as well. No matter what happens in the future, you don't have to be afraid."

Qiao Luo nodded his acknowledgement. A thin layer of sweat rose from the palm of the hand that was clasped in Fu Shizhou's.

He had been protected and sheltered by his family so well, naively and stupidly growing up to be eighteen. His boyfriend had spent his whole life with him, always protecting him and guarding him as his gege. Their relationship was sweet and carefree. Qiao Luo didn't truly understand, until attending this wedding, that their relationship wasn't ordinary and wouldn't be acknowledged by the masses.

For the first time, he hatched a little plan in his heart.

He wanted to tell his mom and dad. He wanted to be accepted by them.

 

However, before Qiao Luo found an opportunity to bring up the matter, his final exams arrived.

Qiao Luo worked fiercely hard for two weeks. He wanted to get the highest test scores ever, in the history of his entire academic career, so that his parents would be elated. So that they would be happy enough for him to bring up something that might make them angry.

But fate had other ideas.

Qiao Luo had spent a lot of his time playing around and slacking off throughout the years. His test scores were usually kind of meh, but this time… he must have been too nervous. He'd gone to bed late and gotten up early for two whole weeks, cramming fiercely for his finals.

In the end, he didn't even manage to score close to what was considered average for him. He plummeted straight out of the Top 300 of his year, earning himself the lowest scores he'd ever gotten in the history of his entire academic career.

The end of finals marked the start of summer break. On that day, Fu Shizhou personally came to pick Qiao Luo up from school.

Qiao Luo clutched his report card and hung his head in defeat. He trudged over to Fu Shizhou with a face full of despair, and muttered, "Let's go."

Fu Shizhou took his report card and looked it over. His brow furrowed of its own volition, but Qiao Luo already looked so dejected and pitiful. Fu Shizhou was reluctant to say anything. He could only softly stroke Qiao Luo's hair and comfort him: "It's fine."

Qiao Luo's eyes instantly reddened. He burst out in aggrieved tears.

This was the first time he'd ever cared so much about his test scores. It was the first time he'd tried to make things easy for Fu Shizhou. It was the first time he'd wanted to do something for Fu Shizhou. But all he'd managed was to make a mess of everything.

The sense of failure and defeat was simply too much. Qiao Luo couldn't handle it.

Fu Shizhou was also at a loss. He didn't know what he was supposed to do. Qiao Luo throwing aggrieved little tantrums was an ordinary thing, but this was the first time he'd ever shown such misery over his grades.

Fu Shizhou could only say, "Don't feel bad. I'll take a look at your test papers when we get back, and we can see where you went wrong, okay?"

Nasally, Qiao Luo mumbled, "Why aren't you scolding me? Wouldn't you always scold me when I got bad scores before?"

"You're already crying so hard," Fu Shizhou said helplessly. "How can I scold you?"

"Oh." Qiao Luo clutched the seatbelt. "Then, in the future, when I do something wrong… will you feel too bad to scold me if I just cry my eyes out?"

Fu Shizhou fell silent.

Coming to that realization didn't actually make Qiao Luo feel any happier. He hung his head again and despaired. "But you should still scold me… being scolded would make me feel a bit better, I think."

That was just way too abnormal. Fu Shizhou got the feeling that this was an extremely serious matter. He asked, "Do you want to talk about it after we get home, or do you want to find a drinks shop to sit and talk?"

Qiao Luo felt too miserable. He hugged his knees to his chest and hid his face against his backpack. His voice was muffled as he mumbled, "Home."

He really wouldn't be able to hold in his tumultuous feelings much longer, especially not in front of Fu Shizhou.

 

After getting home and having a cup of yogurt, Qiao Luo dejectedly revealed all his plans to score well and make his parents happy in preparation for 'bad' news and all. He stretched his arms out to Fu Shizhou, silently asking for a hug. "I'm so useless."

He was so, so not useless. Fu Shizhou's heart had gone completely soft just listening to him. He took Qiao Luo into his arms and said, "Silly thing. How we'll tell Uncle Qiao and Auntie Qiao, when we'll tell them… I've already been thinking about these things. If you boldly tell them outright, what will you do if they scold you?"

Qiao Luo had cried until the tip of his nose went red. He looked up at Fu Shizhou and asked, "Then you'll tell them? But won't you be scolded instead?"

As if it would be just that. Fu Shizhou would deserve it even if they gave him a beating.

But he brushed that thought out of his mind and reassured Qiao Luo: "No way. Uncle Qiao and Auntie Qiao are both reasonable people. They won't scold me."

Qiao Luo was very easily tricked. He nodded obediently and shrank into Fu Shizhou's arms, calming for a while. It was only a while later that he realized something wasn't quite right.

"But," he said, "I should be the one to tell them. They're my mom and dad. I'm no good at all, I have to rely on you for everything."

Fu Shizhou looked Qiao Luo up and down. "Heartless little brat. I've already been worrying about you for how many years, and you've only realized this just now?"

The dip between Qiao Luo's brows was still a little furrowed from dejectedness. Fu Shizhou kissed that dip and teased, "But how are you no good? You nearly managed to confess before me, and you nearly bought the protection for our first time yourself."

When the matter of 'protection' came up, Qiao Luo's face heated up again. He flailed his arms and legs and squirmed out of Fu Shizhou's hold. Very solemnly, he declared, "I'm trying to have a serious conversation with you!"

Qiao Luo's reddened eyes and serious expression were really far too provocative. Fu Shizhou couldn't resist pinching his cheek before asking, "Do you really want to tell Uncle and Auntie yourself?"

Qiao Luo slapped his hand away and very, very earnestly answered, "Yes."

And so, Fu Shizhou got serious about the matter too. He took Qiao Luo's hand and said, "Okay. Wait until school is about to start again to tell them. When the time comes, just tell Uncle and Auntie that you think you've started liking me and that you don't know what you should do. Tell them you don't know what I think of you either. Tell them you want to be with me, but you're scared I'll hate you. Then leave the rest to me. Okay?"

Qiao Luo didn't understand what Fu Shizhou meant by all that. He dumbly asked, "But you and I are already together?"

Fu Shizhou tapped Qiao Luo's nose. "But Uncle and Auntie don't know that. After summer break, you'll have your professional dance exams coming up. Encountering an emotional problem like this around that time… Uncle Qiao and Auntie Qiao dote on you anyway. Their first reaction will be to instinctively try to protect and guide their silly little son. That'll make the rest a little easier."

The silly little son stared blankly at Fu Shizhou for a long while before he suddenly blurted out, shocked and alarmed, "You're bad. You're really bad."

Fu 'Really Bad' Shizhou helplessly scooped Qiao Luo back into his arms and grinned. "Now you know I'm bad? What should we do, then? My little boyfriend has already been devoured by me. It's too late to back out now."

The little bit of depression that had sat heavily in Qiao Luo's heart was well and truly gone now. Fu Shizhou's nonsense words had stirred him all up, calling the events from that night—in that bedroom, on that bed—back to the forefront of Qiao Luo's mind. His face turned as red as a great big apple, and he tilted his head to ask Fu Shizhou, "Then… did your little boyfriend taste good?"

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