With Old Man Fu falling so ill, Fu Shizhou was direly overworked even with the caregiver they hired for the old man.
And Qiao Luo was a third-year high school student now. With his professional dance exams right around the corner, he also barely had enough time in the day to do everything he needed to do.
The two of them could basically only talk on WeChat. When they did manage to meet up, they could only stay together for ten minutes or so. But Fu Shizhou could clearly tell that Qiao Luo was becoming more and more well-behaved.
In the past, Qiao Luo would act so spoiled that he even whined for Fu Shizhou to feed him his meals. Now, he was absurdly well-behaved. When he brought food to the hospital, he would arrive demurely with a little lunchbox. He would help Old Man Fu set up the little dining tray, and while Fu Shizhou was busy eating, he would take the chance to massage Fu Shizhou's shoulders, which had gone stiff from stress and exhaustion.
Fu Shizhou couldn't say much in front of Old Man Fu, so he only took Qiao Luo's hand and had him sit down while he cut a dragonfruit for them to eat.
Qiao Luo remained outrageously well-behaved for two months. Then, a week after Old Man Fu got out of the hospital, the results of Qiao Luo's first set of monthly exams came out. And those results gave everyone a pleasant surprise.
It had been quite a while since Qiao Luo last sprinted as jubilantly as a little bird preparing to take flight. He burst through the Fu family's front door and instantly shouted, "Zhouzhou-gege, Zhouzhou-gege, come here! Come quick!"
Fu Shizhou came down from Old Man Fu's room on the second floor. As soon as he got to the bottom of the stairs, Qiao Luo leapt into his arms. Fu Shizhou managed to catch him and, out of habit, spun him around in a circle in place. He cupped a hand at Qiao Luo's exuberantly happy little face, which practically glowed with a red flush.
"What is it?" Fu Shizhou asked.
Qiao Luo squirmed out from Fu Shizhou's hold and fished out his report card. He placed it right in front of Fu Shizhou's eyes and declared, "Me! 169th! In my class!"
He hadn't acted spoiled or clung to Fu Shizhou over the past two months because he truly hadn't had any free time. Every day, when he wasn't at dance practice, he was studying every major subject. He'd gotten tired enough to fall asleep sprawled out at his desk several times, only waking in the middle of the night to move to bed.
Fu Shizhou looked at his skinny little waist and felt an ache seize his heart. He'd planned on working hard with Qiao Luo in Qiao Luo's third year of high school, but because he had to take care of his own grandpa, he had no time left for Qiao Luo.
But the little brat had actually gained so much self-discipline.
Qiao Luo cuddled into Fu Shizhou's arms and finally put on the spoiled act again: "I nearly studied until I threw up just to make you happy. Hurry up and give me a smile."
Zhou Wanggui's passing hadn't actually been that severe of a blow to Fu Shizhou. He'd been separated from Zhou Wanggui for fifteen years already, after all. Every year, he only went to visit him for a month or so, and Zhou Wanggui never remembered him.
But that was his own grandfather, in the end. That loss, in addition to Old Man Fu's poor mood, had made Fu Shizhou frown much more than usual. And it had made him smile much less. He hadn't even noticed the change in himself, but—
Qiao Luo had noticed.
Fu Shizhou's heart softened, melting into a flat pool in his chest.
This was his Qiao'er, his little boyfriend. The one who had already spent so many years at his side. It would have been bizarre if Fu Shizhou hadn't fallen for him.
Fu Shizhou wrapped an arm around Qiao Luo's shoulders and led him back as he said, "I'll reward you with two hours on the PSP?"
Qiao Luo shook his head. "No thanks, I still have a bunch of practice tests to do today."
He swiveled his little head back and forth. Once he saw that the housekeeper wasn't around, meaning it was just the two of them there, he quietly suggested, "I'm so awesome. Aren't you going to give me a kiss?"
Fu Shizhou started by smacking a kiss to the top of his head, before he added, "I'll give you two."
Mama Qiao felt a little helpless when she saw Qiao Luo emerge from the house next door.
But when she saw Qiao Luo's report card, her helplessness turned into joy. "Summer tutoring lessons really helped a bit."
Qiao Luo pursed his lips. "What? No way. This is the result of me burning the candle at both ends for two months."
Papa Qiao scooted closer to take a look at the report card too. He was extremely satisfied. "Look at that, didn't I say? I told you our Luoluo would learn all about hard work in his third year."
"Of course," Qiao Luo said. "I can't let you think that I'm an irresponsible person who would let his grades fall just because he's developed feelings for someone."
Papa Qiao was silent.
As was Mama Qiao.
In one breath, Qiao Luo gulped down the juice Mama Qiao had poured for him. Then he slung his backpack over his shoulders again and bolted upstairs to the study. "I'm going to keep working hard!"
Downstairs, Papa Qiao and Mama Qiao looked at each other. When their gazes met, they each found the same shades of helpless worry in the other's eyes.
…Qiao Luo was throwing himself into his pursuit single-mindedly, but wasn't there a very high probability that Fu Shizhou wouldn't return his feelings?
Their worries persisted until Qiao Luo's professional dance exams were about to begin.
Old Man Fu had been recovering for nearly half a year at that point. His health was already much better. Qiao Luo and his family had helped out quite a lot during that time. Since everyone wanted to cheer Qiao Luo on at his upcoming exams, the two families got together for a meal.
After they ate, Old Man Fu went home early to rest. But Fu Shizhou stayed at the Qiao family's house. After sending Qiao Luo up to keep reviewing his textbooks in the study, Fu Shizhou turned to the Qiao parents and said, "Uncle Qiao, Auntie Qiao, I've already looked up all the examination sites for Luoluo's upcoming tests. And my grandpa's health is pretty good now, so I was thinking… why don't I take Luoluo to his dance exams?"
If Fu Shizhou went with him, Qiao Luo would definitely be happy. But if Fu Shizhou didn't have those sorts of feelings for Qiao Luo, then it would really be too troublesome.
Papa Qiao and Mama Qiao hesitated for a while, until Fu Shizhou continued, "Actually, I stayed today because I wanted to come clean about something."
His words made the atmosphere much heavier and more intense. Papa Qiao asked, "What is it? Why does it sound so…"
"I like Luoluo. The 'love' sort of like."
The outcome that had a very small probability of occurring… had occurred.
In that moment, Papa Qiao and Mama Qiao both thought the same thing: It's a good thing these two silly kids like each other.
But as an elder, Papa Qiao couldn't visibly let out a breath of relief. He asked Fu Shizhou, "Shizhou, you've been very earnest since you were a child, so when you tell us that you like Luoluo, we believe you've given it a lot of thought. But… society dictates that this road won't be easy for you, in terms of acceptance and recognition."
"Yes," Fu Shizhou agreed. "I've learned from the experiences of my grandfathers. But I'm sure about what I feel."
Mama Qiao was stunned. "Uncle Fu?"
Fu Shizhou said, "The one he waited for was my own grandfather."
Papa Qiao and Mama Qiao were both instantly shocked to the point of not knowing what to say. Fu Shizhou continued, "Luoluo really does depend on me, so I want to accompany him to his dance exams and college entrance exams. After that, I'd like to tell him about my feelings.
"But with what happened to my grandfathers, I thought it would be best to discuss it with you, Uncle Qiao and Auntie Qiao, first."
This truly had been Fu Shizhou's plan from the start. It was only that Qiao Luo had drawn his own conclusions too soon and disrupted the whole plan.
Fu Shizhou hadn't felt too flustered when he coaxed Qiao Luo into telling his parents this story. But when Fu Shizhou himself faced Qiao Luo's parents and lied, he did still feel some shame in his heart. He coughed once, then said, "Just in case Luoluo does like me, it'll be my responsibility to shield him from the challenges of the future."
Silently, Mama Qiao thought, There is no 'just in case'. He likes you. He likes you so much that he ranked 169th in his class.
She wanted to ask when Fu Shizhou had started to like Qiao Luo, but those were the words of a confession that the two kids could exchange between themselves. There was no need for a parent to ask.
She also wanted to urge Fu Shizhou to take good care of Qiao Luo, but anyone with eyes could see how much Fu Shizhou doted on Qiao Luo. The Qiao family's child had been thoroughly spoiled and pampered by Fu Shizhou throughout his whole life. There was no need for her to say anything.
And so, with nothing else to say, Mama Qiao ultimately decided, "Okay, then. When Luoluo has his exams, you and your uncle Qiao can go with him those few days. I'll stay home and relax."
These dance exams… I did a lot of research on Baidu, but it seems like they keep changing, so if there are any bugs, everyone please feel free to tell me. Or just treat it as a fictionalized version. Chu~