Fu Shizhou was due to fly out the next day, so Papa Qiao put his foot down. He decided that he would stay with Old Man Fu at the hospital. He persistently shooed away Fu Shizhou, who'd insisted on staying, and the noisy Qiao Luo who'd also wanted to keep the old man company.
Fu Shizhou drove home with Qiao Luo and Mama Qiao in the back seat. Qiao Luo didn't dare say a single word.
Originally, he'd been wracked by guilt because of the lie he'd told his parents. But after listening to Old Man Fu's whole story, he found himself plagued by some lingering fear as well.
If… his own parents weren't willing to listen to reason, then what would he do?
Qiao Luo lit up the screen of his cell phone, then hastily dimmed it again. He repeated that same fidgety action several times before he finally couldn't take it anymore. He opened the mini program Fu Shizhou had written for him and played the game again.
He was already at Checkpoint No. 27; the reward for the latest checkpoint had been a date over summer break.
The promise of that date had yet to be fulfilled.
Finally, Qiao Luo couldn't stay silent any longer. He locked his cell phone screen again and leaned against his mother's shoulder, quietly whispering to her, "Mama, can I stay with Zhouzhou-gege tonight? He'll be home all by himself, I feel bad."
His hidden feelings had already been brought to light. Mama Qiao understood perfectly well what Qiao Luo was really thinking.
She was worried that Qiao Luo wouldn't be able to handle his feelings properly, but she was also worried about Fu Shizhou suffering alone.
Mama Qiao doted on her own child, but she'd also watched Fu Shizhou grow up. Her heart ached for him too. Just as her two sides were waging a divine war within her, Fu Shizhou began to speak from the driver's seat:
"Luoluo, I have a very early flight tomorrow. It'll disturb your sleep, so stay at your own home tonight."
Qiao Luo instantly countered, "I don't mind if I'm disturbed!"
Fu Shizhou glanced through the rearview mirror and caught sight of Qiao Luo's puffed up and indignant little face. His heart softened, but his own mood was really not very good. He didn't want Qiao Luo to worry, so he said, "You say that now, but when I wake you up tomorrow morning, you'll nag me to death."
Before Qiao Luo could speak again, he quickly added, "Be good."
Never in a million years could Qiao Luo have imagined that Fu Shizhou didn't want his company. He choked back his instinct to protest and ultimately relented. "Okay."
Mama Qiao saw how pitiful the wilted Qiao Luo looked. Her heart felt even more torn.
…hadn't Old Man Fu said something about that? How he and that person, at the start, had simply been kindred spirits who relied on each other?
Mama Qiao thought of Old Man Fu's tear-streaked face and finally offered a suggestion of her own: "Shizhou, come to our house. If you need to get up early, take the guest room. But don't go stay at your house all alone."
She was thinking that, just in case this child didn't have any deeper feelings for Luoluo, she could at least remind him of the good will between their families. She could at least make sure he didn't reject Qiao Luo too harshly.
The last time Fu Shizhou stayed in their guest room, Qiao Luo had snuck down in the middle of the night and tried to confess to him.
This time, when Fu Shizhou stepped into the guest room, Qiao Luo was already his little boyfriend.
Fu Shizhou looked up at the sweet little Qiao Luo who was standing nearby, hugging a pillow. He could only stop in the middle of making the bed to say, "Go sleep upstairs. I'm fine."
Qiao Luo glanced back at the door before he whispered, in a tiny voice, "I'm not fine."
Fu Shizhou's eyebrows jumped up. "What's wrong?"
Mama Qiao pushed the door open and stepped inside to bring Fu Shizhou a universal charging cable. She asked, in a tone that seemed almost casual, "Why are you still sticking around here just to deliver a pillow? Hurry up and go to sleep. Your Zhouzhou-gege is already tired enough, don't bother him."
Qiao Luo was still suffering from a guilty conscience. Though he was reluctant, he could only put down the pillow and head back upstairs in his little slippers.
Three seconds later, Fu Shizhou's cell phone started vibrating like crazy. One message after another.
[Qiao'er]: I told my parents.
[Qiao'er]: I don't think they seem super opposed.
[Qiao'er]: I don't care. No matter what, I want to be with you. Grandpa Fu and your grandpa are too tragic. I don't want to become them.
[Qiao'er]: You haven't held me today. o(╥﹏╥)o
[Qiao'er]: But I'll behave, so don't be sad. Sleep well.
…told his parents? What kind of timing was that?
Fu Shizhou rubbed the dip between his brows, which seemed to be throbbing with soreness. After a moment, he answered, What did Uncle and Auntie say?
Qiao Luo answered with a sixty-second audio clip, relaying the conversation he'd had with his father in the study.
Fu Shizhou let out a breath of relief. He knew that Qiao Luo had probably been scared by Old Man Fu's story, so he sent another reassuring message: It's going to be okay. You know Auntie Qiao isn't the type of person who would menace a child by threatening to hurt herself, right?
Qiao Luo thought for a moment, and his heart calmed somewhat. His answer: Right.
He sat in his own bed and suppressed the urge to grab his covers and go back down to be with Fu Shizhou. He sent an audio clip instead: "When I was in the back seat just now, I decided. If we're forced to separate too, I'll also wait for you for the rest of my life."
Fu Shizhou answered with a text: We won't be forced apart.
Qiao Luo continued nonetheless, sending another voice clip: "I actually know why you're called Fu Shizhou now. I snuck a peek at what Grandpa Fu said. Your other grandpa's surname was Zhou, wasn't it?"
Fu Shizhou's answer: Mm.
Qiao Luo continued to speak: "I've already thought that, in case I can't be with you, I'll adopt a child too. I've already decided on a name."
Although he didn't really want to encourage Qiao Luo's nonsense, Fu Shizhou was genuinely a bit curious. He typed back a response: What?
This time, Qiao Luo didn't send an audio clip. He must have been too shy. Instead, he wrote back three characters: Qiao Ai'fu.1
Fu Shizhou's reply: ……
His heart had been wrapped up in dark, gray clouds of depression and grief. It was like that breath of fresh air from Qiao Luo had managed to split the sky and part those clouds.
His stupid little Qiao'er was really far too cute.
Helpless, he spoke into his phone to record a voice clip: "Qiao'er, don't you know that 'xián pín ài fù'2 is a negative phrase? Be good and go to sleep. Don't curse the kid."
But rather than going to sleep, Qiao Luo sent over another voice clip from his end.
Fu Shizhou hit play. With a bit of a whine in his voice, as well as a bit of shyness, Qiao Luo softly said, "I'm saying I love you."
For once, Fu Shizhou was the one who hadn't followed the deeper, emotional meanings of Qiao Luo's words. He hastily scrolled back up and recalled his own audio message from two minutes ago. Then he sent a new one: "I won't give you any reason to have to adopt a child, because I love you too."
Qiao Luo was the medicine that kept Fu Shizhou steady and stable.
In everyone else's eyes, Qiao Luo clung to Fu Shizhou like he was incapable of growing up. But Fu Shizhou knew the truth in his heart. He was the one who was extremely reliant on Qiao Luo.
Without Fu Shizhou, Qiao Luo may have grown up thoughtlessly, without a care for anything in the world. But if Fu Shizhou didn't have Qiao Luo, he would have had a miserable life.
Fu Shizhou had come to that realization during his first year of college.
When a young Fu Shizhou left his home far behind and came to live in this new city where he only knew one person, Qiao Luo had been the first one to give him a piece of candy, to stick to him, to be with him.
In Fu Shizhou's first year of college, when Qiao Luo had lied to him about being sick to trick him into coming home, Fu Shizhou had realized how much he valued this little tail.
But he also knew how difficult it would be to walk that path. His two grandpas had taught him that lesson through their pasts.
And so, Fu Shizhou had ignored Qiao Luo for a month back then. Qiao Luo had always believed that he'd angered Fu Shizhou into giving him the silent treatment for a month, but in truth—Fu Shizhou was only trying to quit Qiao Luo.
But it was no good.
He'd tossed and turned, unable to get a good night's rest. Whenever he thought of a future without Qiao Luo at his side, whining for him to spoil him, his heart seized with pain.
His withdrawal symptoms had been too intense. Ultimately, Fu Shizhou could only continue to be an addict.
Because of the confessions of love they'd exchanged, Fu Shizhou's misery and worry dissipated somewhat. He unexpectedly fell asleep without much trouble, steadily dozing through the night.
His flight was at six in the morning; he had to rush to the airport even earlier. Fu Shizhou deliberately moved up his alarm from three-thirty to three. With the additional time after waking, he quietly crept up to Qiao Luo's room.
It was the middle of the night, when everyone was sure to be sleeping soundly. Qiao Luo was sleeping as deeply as ever.
A silver sliver of moonlight bled in through a gap in the curtains. That light peeked inside, shining down on this scene. Fu Shizhou pressed a very soft, very delicate kiss to Qiao Luo's temple.
And that light also heard the words that were drummed out by the fierce beat of Fu Shizhou's heart:
Qiao'er. Thank you for loving me.
1. The characters Qiao Luo uses are 乔爱傅, where 乔 = Qiao, 傅 = Fu, and 爱 = love. Literally translated, the name would mean 'Qiao loves Fu'.
2. The phrase 'xián pín ài fù' means to favor the rich and look down on the poor, and Qiao Luo's proposed name for the kid contains characters that are pronounced just like the 'ài fù' part of this, so Fu Shizhou is saying it would be an inauspicious name.