After seeing the way Fu Shizhou and his friends acted on that trip, Qiao Luo gained a much greater sense of security. But when the end of summer break really arrived, when he sat in front of his mom and dad, he still felt some apprehension.
He was apprehensive about whether or not his feelings would be accepted. He was apprehensive about deceiving his own parents.
So nothing about his nervousness was fake. He anxiously admitted that he liked Fu Shizhou, and he watched as grim, serious expressions came over his parents' faces. A thin layer of sweat beaded at his palms.
Papa Qiao paused the movie that had been playing on the television. "Luoluo," he started. "Thank you for being willing to talk to your mama and papa about what you're feeling in your heart. You're eighteen, an adult now. Yearning for love and romance is a very normal thing.
"Your mama and I won't strictly forbid you from liking a person. But when you say you like Shizhou, do you know what that means?"
Before Papa Qiao asked that question, Qiao Luo really hadn't given much thought to what that 'meant'.
When he realized he liked Fu Shizhou, his first reaction had simply been to tell him. He hadn't even thought about the consequences.
And then Fu Shizhou had stolen the opportunity to confess first. After that, they were together.
They hadn't hit any bumps or stumbling blocks along the way. Grandpa Fu had given Qiao Luo a jade pendant. Fu Shizhou's friends showed no adverse or abnormal reactions to the right of Fu Shizhou holding Qiao Luo's hand.
Their relationship had progressed too smoothly. So smoothly that Qiao Luo hadn't deeply considered its 'meaning' at all.
But when Papa Qiao asked that question, Qiao Luo was still able to give a very natural and honest response.
"It means I fell in love early," Qiao Luo said. "It means I'm gay, but I still like him so much. It's almost like poison. I like him so, so, so much. Not the kind of 'like' where you just play house as kids."
"You're serious about this?" Mama Qiao asked.
Qiao Luo nodded. Solemnly, he answered, "I'm very serious."
Papa Qiao and Mama Qiao exchanged a look with each other. In the end, Papa Qiao said to Qiao Luo, "Luoluo, your papa doesn't have any well-matured advice for you right now. So let's talk about this again tomorrow. Is that okay?"
Qiao Luo's parents had encountered same-sex couples during their time at performing arts school and their time performing abroad. They could respect others, but when it came to their very own son, it was difficult for them not to feel helpless.
They had to give Qiao Luo proper guidance on the matter of his feelings, and they had to be prepared to support Qiao Luo in case he was met by heartbreak. More than anything, they had to continue being his responsible parents. They had to give him good, mature, and well-thought-out advice.
The two parents basically didn't sleep all night. They talked lots and lots, and they researched lots and lots. In the morning, they finally composed themselves. Papa Qiao approached Qiao Luo again to discuss the matter.
They wanted Qiao Luo to understand that like and love were both very pure, sacred emotions. But those feelings had to be supported by responsibility and virtue. And what they struggled with, as parents, wasn't that Qiao Luo liked another man. It was that his path in life would be paved with many struggles because of this. Those struggles couldn't be surmounted by impulsive emotions that only flared up in the heat of the moment.
But Papa Qiao and Qiao Luo only made it through half of that conversation. They were interrupted by the screeching howl of an ambulance siren from outside.
They could hear the siren so clearly from inside the house; the ambulance must have been very close. Mama Qiao knocked on the study door and said, "Let's hurry and take a look. Did something happen to Uncle Fu?"
The ambulance was indeed parked outside the Fu family's house.
By the time the Qiao family ran outside, paramedics were already performing emergency resuscitation on Old Man Fu.
Qiao Luo was scared to death. He instantly forgot that he was supposed to be hiding his relationship in front of his parents. He ran over and grabbed Fu Shizhou's hand as he said, "Zhouzhou-gege, don't worry."
Even if Fu Shizhou was the stable and steady sort, he was no older than twenty-two. When his gramps, who had raised him since he was little, suddenly collapsed in front of him, he had managed to keep his emotions under control long enough to dial emergency services. That was already stable and steady enough.
When Qiao Luo took his hand. Fu Shizhou instinctively drew Qiao Luo closer. He let the warmth from Qiao Luo's palm flow into his own hand, filling him with a fragmented sense of security.
At a time like that, holding hands and even hugging wouldn't have been seen as overemotional or out of place. Papa Qiao stepped up and patted Fu Shizhou on the shoulder as he echoed, "Shizhou, don't worry."
Old Man Fu had suddenly collapsed after being subjected to some external stimulation. The medical personnel had already gotten an understanding of the situation from Fu Shizhou on the phone, and Fu Shizhou had also performed some emergency first aid before their arrival.
Luckily, the old man was saved. When he started to breathe again, everyone let out a collective sigh of relief.
Papa Qiao and Fu Shizhou went to the hospital with the old man in the ambulance. Qiao Luo was so anxious that he practically started running around in circles. He looked like he was ready to start crying at any second. Mama Qiao had no choice but to get the car and drive him out to the hospital too.
At his advanced age, it was inevitable that Old Man Fu would experience some health problems. Even after being resuscitated, he would need to go through various tests and treatments at the hospital.
When Old Man Fu gradually came to, he was in a horrible psychological state. His face was stained with old tear tracks, but his expression was otherwise numb and wooden. He sat silently in a wheelchair, allowing Fu Shizhou to push him towards his next exam.
There was a long line to pay for the medical tests. Fu Shizhou couldn't leave Old Man Fu's side, so it was a good thing Papa Qiao had come as well. He took over the troublesome parts of getting their forms and bills sorted, running a few laps around the hospital on Fu Shizhou's behalf.
By the time Papa Qiao returned to Old Man Fu's hospital room, the old man had fallen asleep in bed.
Mama Qiao had rushed over with Qiao Luo, but they weren't allowed to have so many people in the hospital rooms at once. They could only wait on the benches outside.
When Mama Qiao saw Papa Qiao emerge, she pulled him aside and whispered, "How's Uncle Fu?"
Papa Qiao furrowed his brows. "Not very good, it seems."
He looked at Qiao Luo, who had huddled close to listen in. "Luoluo, go buy your Zhouzhou-gege something warm to drink."
Qiao Luo was extremely willing to accept that task. He took his cell phone and ran off to buy some things, while sneakily texting Fu Shizhou on WeChat at the same time: I'll come keep you company. Don't be sad.
When he was worried, he tended to talk too much. He was still restless, and soon sent another message: Grandpa Fu will be fine.
Fu Shizhou had never let go of his phone. He answered very quickly: Qiao'er, come to me.
Qiao Luo rushed back as soon as he saw that message, absently buying a random cup of hot soy milk on the way. Fu Shizhou had already emerged from the hospital room. He was sitting on the bench outside with his fingers laced together. His elbows were braced against his thighs, pressing down on a stack of medical files and bills. He had his face buried in his hands, and he looked to be in a terrible state.
Qiao Luo nearly burrowed straight into Fu Shizhou's arms. He only hit the emergency brakes when he spotted his parents. He pointed at himself, then pointed at Fu Shizhou, while gazing at his parents with a pleading sort of look in his eyes.
Papa Qiao and Mama Qiao had no intention of forcibly getting in the way of Qiao Luo's feelings. They only hoped that he would mature some more, and not allow his affections to get in the way of his academic career. But Fu Shizhou did need someone with him right now, so Mama Qiao nodded and silently mouthed, Go ahead.
Qiao Luo hurriedly passed the soy milk to Fu Shizhou and took all the files and bills from him. "Drink a little. I added sugar. It'll lift your spirits a bit."
Fu Shizhou forced out a very unsightly smile and tried to reassure Qiao Luo: "Okay. I'm fine. Don't worry."
Qiao Luo had never been very strong in the face of such things. His heart began to ache, and his eyes quickly reddened. "Do you want to cry a bit? Your smile is so ugly."
Fu Shizhou didn't actually want to cry. All he wanted was to take Qiao Luo into his arms and hold him for a while, but Qiao Luo's parents were there. He didn't dare make that move. He could only softly stroke Qiao Luo's hair a few times, then silently sip the warm soy milk Qiao Luo had brought him.
Papa Qiao sat on Fu Shizhou's other side and asked, "Shizhou, what happened?"
He knew he was prying into someone else's personal matters, and he hastily added, "If there's anything you need, allow me and Luoluo's mom to help you. Don't carry this weight all by yourself."
Fu Shizhou took another few sips of the soy milk. He gazed at the tightly closed door to the hospital room, and said in a soft voice, "A person very important to my grandpa… has passed away."