Qiao Luo, age three. Fu Shizhou, age seven.
Qio'er's thoughts: This little gege is so handsome, it's too bad his face is no good. I heard eating candy can make you sweet. Since he's handsome, I'll give him a lollipop.
Fu Shizhou's thoughts: Annoying… don't wanna pay attention to him… but the little sprout is pretty sweet. Forget it, I'll just take the lollipop. It's only polite.
Qiao'er's thoughts: The little gege accepted my candy, yay! Luoluo will have a gege from now on!
Fu Shizhou's thoughts: This candy is way too much, why do I have to finish it… I really wanna go upstairs to my room…
Qiao Luo, age four. Fu Shizhou, age eight.
Fu Shizhou's thoughts: I can't believe I've already lived here for a year. But I still miss home a little bit. I wonder how Grandpa is doing with his illness.
Qiao'er's thoughts: Zhouzhou-gege isn't happy today, what should I do? I want to comfort him, but I don't know how. I'm so worried!
Fu Shizhou was in a bad mood. He hid in his room, refusing to see anyone. He refused dinner too, saying he was sleepy.
Qiao Luo wobbled upstairs, carrying a bowl. He set it down properly on the nightstand. He didn't dare say anything, only pulling over a little stool to sit next to Fu Shizhou's bed. He blinked up at his Zhouzhou-gege with his big, hopeful eyes.
Qiao Luo was worried to death. The big one was unhappy. How was Qiao Luo supposed to comfort him?
Ten minutes later, Fu Shizhou dramatically sat up in bed and said, darkly, "Can't you just let me have some peace and…"
He stopped halfway and deflated. The little brat was super quiet, sitting perfectly still with his knees pressed together and his hands on his knees. He couldn't have been more well-behaved. He peered at Fu Shizhou cautiously, like he'd been scared out of his wits.
Fu Shizhou's expression remained dark, but he tamped down his temper and ate a bowl of noodles. He held the empty bowl in one hand and took Qiao Luo's hand in the other as he started to move. Still in a foul mood, he grumbled, "Let's go. Your cartoon is half finished by now, right?"
Qiao Luo, age seven. Fu Shizhou, age eleven.
Qiao Luo was finally in first grade. He carried a brand new backpack, held Fu Shizhou's hand, and skipped all the way to school.
At home, after his first day of school—
Qiao'er's thoughts: They all asked if the one who brought me to school was my gege. Yes, yes, yes! They all said my gege was super handsome. Zhouzhou-gege is mine. None of them have such a handsome gege!
Fu Shizhou's thoughts: Can't believe there are people who think the little brat is cute… and they even envy me for having such a cute didi. He's pretty pale and soft and his eyes are pretty big and he's pretty well-behaved and he speaks a bit sweetly, but besides that, what's so cute about him? Every day he causes a commotion, and he makes me hold him every time he gets sick. It's not like I want a didi like that.
Qiao Luo, age nine. Fu Shizhou, age thirteen.
Fu Shizhou went to participate in a summer camp for middle school students. When he departed, Qiao Luo was still attending a dance class at a children's activity club.
Qiao Luo got home and waited all night. But Fu Shizhou didn't appear.
And so, Qiao Luo could only shyly ask Grandpa Fu where Zhouzhou-gege had gone.
Old Man Fu was still a child at heart. He teased the little kid, "Your Zhouzhou-gege went home. He won't be coming back."
Qiao Luo instantly became super, super, super anxious. He spun in place three times. His eyes reddened. He was panicking so hard that he didn't know what to do. "No, no, no! He can't, he can't!"
Old Man Fu hadn't imagined Qiao Luo would react so intensely. He hurriedly apologized and comforted the boy, saying that Fu Shizhou would be back in just three days.
Qiao Luo had been scared to death. He was super scared that Grandpa Fu only said these things to deceive him. He didn't sleep or eat well for three whole days. Finally, when Fu Shizhou did return, he hurriedly leapt into Fu Shizhou's arms and said, "Zhouzhou-gege, you can't ever leave again, okay?"
Fu Shizhou could only stand there while Qiao Luo rubbed his tears all over him. In a rare show of patience, he didn't get mad. He only said, "Okay."
Qiao Luo, age ten. Fu Shizhou, age fourteen.
Qiao Luo lazed around at Fu Shizhou's house, not wanting to go home. He was dead set on sleeping with Fu Shizhou.
In truth, it was just because Fu Shizhou had gone out to play basketball that night. He hadn't stuck around to keep Qiao Luo company, so Qiao Luo had yet to get enough of Fu Shizhou.
Fu Shizhou darkened his face and said, "No, you can't stay."
Qiao Luo rushed up to him and leapt onto his back, making Fu Shizhou carry him as he sweetly said, "Yes, I can. How could the answer ever be 'no'?"
Fu Shizhou's expression remained dark as he carried Qiao Luo upstairs.
In the middle of the night, Qiao Luo was sleeping soundly. He kicked Fu Shizhou first, then he kicked off the covers.
Fu Shizhou, who had been kicked awake, looked down at this little dumpling that was sprawled out across his whole bed. He felt a headache coming on. Unhappily, he pursed his lips and tucked Qiao Luo in again. After that, he was afraid of being kicked once more, so he took Qiao Luo into his arms.
Half-asleep, half-awake, Qiao Luo hazily thought, Being mean to me is just an act. Zhouzhou-gege treats me better than anyone.
He snuggled into Fu Shizhou's arms and had very, very sweet dreams.
Qiao Luo, age eleven. Fu Shizhou, age fifteen.
Qiao Luo was sick again. He cried and whined for his Zhouzhou-gege.
Fu Shizhou had no choice but to keep him company. He wet a towel and wiped Qiao Luo's tear- and snot-streaked face clean. Then he calmly fed Qiao Luo a bottle of Yakult, like it was something he'd already done a thousand times. "No more crying."
Qiao Luo tugged on his finger and said, "Zhouzhou-gege, don't be mad."
At that point, Fu Shizhou was already incapable of getting angry. Because he was already used to Qiao Luo's spoiled act.
He even sort of liked it, just a little. The little brat only put on the spoiled act with him, after all.
Getting used to something was really a scary thing. Just like he'd already gotten used to living in this city. He's already made new friends, and he was used to playing with them. He'd already started seeing Gramps as his real grandpa, not a stranger.
The changes in his life hadn't been as painful as he'd expected, and he'd never experienced the sorrow and loneliness of being all by himself. Because the soft and warm Qiao Luo was always at his side.
Sticking to him.
Being with him.
Qiao Luo, age fourteen. Fu Shizhou, age eighteen.
Fu Shizhou had gotten into college. His scores were outstanding, and he'd gotten into a very good school.
Grandpa Fu was elated. Papa Qiao and Mama Qiao also offered Fu Shizhou their warm and wholehearted congratulations.
Only Qiao Luo was unhappy.
Zhouzhou-gege was going to go to college. Zhouzhou-gege was going to live on campus. Zhouzhou-gege wasn't going to be around to scold him and then secretly spoil him anymore.
Fu Shizhou thought he would finally be free of the little tail that stuck to him every day. He would finally live a free and easy life in the school dorms. But, in the end, he couldn't handle it after just one week.
During the days, he didn't have a little brat calling him 'Zhouzhou-gege, Zhouzhou-gege' over and over again. At night, he started dreaming about the little brat, and it was the sight of the little brat crying and asking to be comforted that filled his dreams.
The scariest part was that, in the mornings, he had a reaction.
Fu Shizhou was speechless.
He was used to Qiao Luo clinging to him, but it wasn't supposed to be like this.
Fu Shizhou started to wage a one-sided cold war against Qiao Luo. He started to ignore him. Completely, utterly. Ignored.
It hurt. It made his heart ache. He could imagine how aggrieved and helpless Qiao Luo must look. And when Qiao Luo got truly frantic, his eyes would always turn so red.
In the end, Fu Shizhou hadn't been able to stay firm in his resolve. He told himself, Fu Shizhou, you can't step out of line just because Qiao'er relies on you and clings to you. You wait until Qiao'er is eighteen. You wait until you mature some more, and you really think about this matter. Then, you can pursue him.
Qiao Luo, age sixteen. Fu Shizhou, age twenty.
Qiao Luo got into a prep school. Fu Shizhou received word of it from Gramps. The corners of his lips curved into a smile that practically reached the sky, and it was a smile that refused to be flattened no matter how hard Fu Shizhou tried.
However, when the little brat called him, Fu Shizhou had to control his tone as he said, "What's so impressive about that?"
He couldn't treat Qiao Luo too well. If Qiao Luo's dependence on him continued to deepen, it wouldn't do either of them any good.
But if a person could truly control all their emotions, they would have evolved into a machine.
Fu Shizhou was just an ordinary person. He stressed out about it for over two hours, then settled on a perfectly innocuous gift: a copy of the famous 'National College Entrance Exams - Study Guide & Practice Tests'.
Then he made a trip home.
Qiao Luo, age seventeen. Fu Shizhou, age twenty-one.
Qiao Luo and Fu Shizhou got together.
Qiao Luo, age twenty-one. Fu Shizhou, age twenty-five.
After graduation, Fu Shizhou was recruited into Yu Ziheng's company. Business soared; their venture was a huge success.
At the dinner celebrating their first big milestone, Fu Shizhou had a bit to drink and couldn't drive home. He didn't want to call a cab either, so he took Qiao Luo's hand and walked home with him.
Their destination wasn't far, anyway.
Qiao Luo followed Fu Shizhou. He didn't take his eyes off Fu Shizhou, and he didn't watch where they were going. Fu Shizhou could have led him home, or he could have led him anywhere. Qiao Luo wouldn't have minded or even noticed.
Until they stopped in front of a house Qiao Luo had never seen before.
Qiao Luo cocked his head to the side, then looked at Fu Shizhou. "You're drunk, you got lost! Silly."
Fu Shizhou smiled. He wasn't drunk, but the little bit of liquor he'd had with dinner had left him with an almost dizzyingly alluring appeal. It was enough to stun Qiao Luo.
Then, Fu Shizhou fished out a key and opened the door. It was only then that he said, "You're the silly one. We didn't get lost. This is our home."
The house was very plainly furnished, but there were two pairs of slippers sitting right inside the front door.
Qiao Luo was dumbstruck. He changed into a pair of slippers and blindly followed Fu Shizhou into the bedroom, where a photo of the two of them, together, was hanging.
In that photo, Qiao Luo's smile was sweet and a little silly. Fu Shizhou's impossibly doting, loving gaze was on Qiao Luo.
Qiao Luo pointed at the photo. He was only able to let out a monosyllabic sound: "Huh?"
"I bought and furnished the house a year ago," Fu Shizhou said. "Your Ziheng-ge loaned me some money for it. I didn't get any part of my bonus from this project. It all went to paying back that loan. So… silly Qiao'er, do you want to move in and live with me?"
Qiao Luo leapt into Fu Shizhou's arms, repeating the same words with the same sweetness and enthusiasm that would never change:
"Yes, yes, yes!"
Qiao Luo, age thiry. Fu Shizhou, age thirty-four.
Qiao Luo's thoughts: Why is a thirty-something man still that handsome?
Fu Shizhou's thoughts: Why is this little thirty-year-old brat still so good at putting on the spoiled act? I can't say no to him at all.
Qiao Luo, age forty-one. Fu Shizhou, age forty-five.
Qiao Luo called out, "Zhouzhou-gege!"
And Fu Shizhou said, "Here."
"Mom called me today. She asked us to go home for dinner."
"I know. Mom called me too. It's good timing. Yu Ziheng just brought over our dad's favorite tea leaves. Let's bring them home together today."
Qiao Luo, lots and lots of years old. Fu Shizhou, also lots and lots of years old.
The two of them had become old men.
Loving, affectionate old men.
They moved into a much bigger house in the suburbs, where they bought a hammock chair. Fu Shizhou stood behind Qiao Luo, pushing him lightly. Qiao Luo gazed up at Fu Shizhou, innocent and spoiled.
He'd called out 'Zhouzhou-gege' all his life.
And even now, he sweetly called out, "Zhouzhou-gege, hold me."
Fu Shizhou squeezed onto the chair with him. The two of them held each other as always. Shoulder-to-shoulder, foreheads pressed together.
The springtime sun was wonderful. Even when it began to set, it was wonderful.