WITHDRAWAL

Chapter 43: Extra Three - Family Photo

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In April, cherry blossoms were in full bloom. Fu Shizhou had a rare period at work during which he wasn't too busy. He agreed to take Qiao Luo out on a day trip to refresh their minds and hearts.

Then, he gave it some more thought and realized that their two families hadn't gotten together since the Lantern Festival in the first lunar month. So he decided to take Papa Qiao, Mama Qiao, and Old Man Fu with them.

Papa Qiao drove Mama Qiao and Old Man Fu from the houses where they lived, and Fu Shizhou drove Qiao Luo from their own little home.

Qiao Luo was already in his twenties. At school, he could play the part of the elder and even scold his underclassmen once in a while. But when he was alone with Fu Shizhou, he reverted to his original shape and form.

In the mornings, he would laze around in bed and whine, "I'm sleeeeeepy."

Fu Shizhou had already prepared the tissues, wet wipes, and seating cushions that they would need for their trip. When he returned to the bedroom to find that the little brat had dozed off again, he had no choice but to personally haul the sleepyhead out of bed.

Qiao Luo pouted and mumbled, "Why do we have to go out? Isn't it better to stay in bed? Aren't our comforters soft enough?"

Who was it who'd pestered Fu Shizhou about going out in the first place, hm?

Back then, Fu Shizhou had had to toss Qiao Luo in bed and have a roll around with him before he calmed down.

However, Qiao Luo had always been a lazybones in the morning. Fu Shizhou had no choice. He could only pick Qiao Luo up like a little kid and carry him into the bathroom. When he set him down, he let Qiao Luo stand on his feet. He held Qiao Luo up with one arm and grabbed Qiao Luo's electric toothbrush with his other hand.

"Squeeze the toothpaste yourself," he said.

Qiao Luo was still half-asleep. He picked up the toothbrush, then held it unmovingly. It wasn't until Fu Shizhou brought the toothbrush closer that Qiao Luo finally squeezed out some toothpaste and shoved the toothbrush into his mouth.

After brushing his teeth, Qiao Luo did finally feel a little more awake thanks to the stimulation of the minty toothpaste. He stayed on Fu Shizhou's feet while he washed his face, then turned and said, "Hug."

Under Fu Shizhou's darkened expression, Qiao Luo nuzzled his chest and sweetly said, "Zhouzhou-gege, I like you so much."

Fu Shizhou had no resistance against this sort of sugary attack. He could only carry Qiao Luo back into the bedroom and set him back down on the bed.

Qiao Luo sat at the edge of the bed and started to swing his skinny little legs. He asked Fu Shizhou, "What should I wear?"

Fu Shizhou took out a hoodie and a pair of comfortable pants for him. After setting them down on the bed, he went to get changed himself.

When he got back, he found that Qiao Luo had finished putting on his pants. Then Qiao Luo had started playing on his cell phone.

Fu Shizhou stared in silence.

He'd given an inch, and now Qiao Luo was ready to take a mile.

Coldly, Fu Shizhou called out, "Qiao Luo."

Being called by his full name made Qiao Luo jolt to attention. He hurriedly rolled over and got up from the bed, frantically dressing himself properly.

 

Getting out of bed had taken forever and an age. By the time they got to the park, it was nearly eleven.

It was the holidays, and people were everywhere. Fortunately, they were all in a good mood. They strolled around through the packed streets for a half hour or so, then found a spot on the lush green field to set up their picnic blanket and tent. Papa Qiao and Old Man Fu went back to the car to fetch the drinks and food they'd brought, as well as some disposable plates and utensils.

Lots of people were there to have picnics of their own. On the green field, there were at least ten tents dotting the grass.

There was a little three- or four-year-old kid from a neighboring family who inexplicably took a liking to Qiao Luo. After playing with Qiao Luo for a long while, he even ran over to their picnic blanket and mooched a bottle of Qiao Luo's beloved Yakult.

Turning to Fu Shizhou, the little kid said, "Thank you, Uncle."

Then, to Qiao Luo, the little kid said, "Gege, I brought a kite. We can play with it together in the afternoon."

Fu Shizhou was silent.

Old Man Fu was laughing himself breathless. He patted Fu Shizhou on the shoulder and said, "This is a sign that you can't always work overtime. Look at that. You've got a generation gap now, eh?"

Qiao Luo was super worried that Fu Shizhou would be upset. He scooted closer and soothed, "Maybe my hoodie makes me look young."

However, Old Man Fu was determined not to let his grandson off the hook. "Look young? Bah, our Luoluo is young."

He had recently been practicing tai chi with a group of old grandmas and grandpas at the community plaza. He'd learned a bunch of fresh new words from their various grandkids, and he used them on Qiao Luo now: "You're what people call a pretty boy."

Qiao Luo instantly forgot all about comforting Fu Shizhou. He turned to Old Man Fu and praised, "Wooow, Gramps! You know how to use phrases like 'pretty boy'!"

Fu Shizhou was about to get a headache just looking at the old one and the little one. He stuffed a wet wipe into Qiao Luo's hands and said, "Wipe your own hands."

Then, in a quiet little voice, he muttered, "My relationship feels less like dating and more like raising a child. What kind of generation gap is that?"

Some thought must have crossed Qiao Luo's mind. His face went instantly, brilliantly red.

 

After lunch, Old Man Fu went into the tent to rest for a while. Qiao Luo ran off to fly a kite with the little kid who had stuck to him all throughout the morning.

Twenty-some minutes later, Qiao Luo came running back over, holding the little kid's hand. He gazed hopefully at Fu Shizhou and said, "Zhouzhou-gege, we can't get the kite to fly."

The little kid also politely said, "Gege, please help us."

This time, it was 'gege'.

Fu Shizhou happily stood up and followed the two of them out to an area where many other people were flying kites. He had Qiao Luo hold the kite while he unspooled the thread and ran. When he'd gotten far enough, he called out, "Release!"

Qiao Luo let go of the kite, and it slowly started to drift up through the air.

The little kid excitedly clapped his hands from nearby. "It's flying!"

Fu Shizhou gave the spool of the kite to the little kid, then wrapped his own little brat up in his arms and took him away.

The sun wasn't too strong, but Qiao Luo wasn't good at withstanding the heat. His little face was already glowingly red.

Fu Shizhou grabbed a bottle of water for Qiao Luo. The two of them sat down on the cushions they'd just used during their picnic.

Qiao Luo scooted closer to Fu Shizhou's side, and Fu Shizhou lightly draped an arm around his shoulders. Gazing up at the sky full of kites, he said, "You were just a tiny little thing like that when I first met you. And you stuck to me like a little dango."

Qiao Luo rested his head on Fu Shizhou's shoulder and sighed, deeply moved. "Wow. So you fell in love at first sight, huh?"

Fu Shizhou thoroughly ruined the mood: "Forget that. Back then, you were so damn annoying."

Qiao Luo was super, super aggrieved to hear that. "But I was so cute."

Fu Shizhou grinned, immensely amused. He rubbed Qiao Luo's hair and said, "What kind of person would call themselves cute?"

There were too many people around. Qiao Luo was too embarrassed to burrow deeper into Fu Shizhou's arms. He only quietly nuzzled his head against Fu Shizhou's shoulder and asked, "Am I not cute? Why do you have to kiss me, if I'm not cute?"

"You're cute," Fu Shizhou said. "I only realized later that the little dango had a sweet filling inside."

 

Once Old Man Fu had rested enough, the young couple had had enough of their quiet sweet talk too. The whole family gathered up their things and packed them away into their cars, then took their cameras and went to view the flowers.

Cherry blossoms weren't the only flowers blooming at that time of year. Crabapple, pear, and peach trees were all in full bloom as well. The whole park was bright and vibrant.

Qiao Luo was the most excited of them all. He took his camera and photographed everything, clicking away nonstop. By three in the afternoon, he'd used up half the camera's battery life.

Mama Qiao chided, "How old are you already? Don't run around acting like a little child."

Then, to Fu Shizhou, she said, "You've spoiled him far too much."

Fu Shizhou could only smile. He said nothing.

He wouldn't mind it at all if Qiao Luo remained that happy and carefree for the rest of his life.

The park's most famous attraction was a hundred-year-old cherry tree. Many people liked to take photos together under that tree. Papa Qiao suggested, "Let's take a photo together too."

Mama Qiao instantly voiced her agreement: "Let's! A group photo, with the whole family!"

Too many people were around. It was incredibly difficult to find a spot where they could capture a photo without getting strangers in the shot. After a long while, they finally managed to claim a good spot. Old Man Fu stood in the middle. Papa Qiao and Mama Qiao stood on one side of him, while Fu Shizhou and Qiao Luo stood on the other. Everyone held hands, and the camera captured that perfect moment of warmth and love.

The resulting photo was excellent. Mama Qiao said she would print it out as their family photo.

"The one hanging in the study now is the one we took with our parents when Luoluo was a month old," she said. "When we get back, I'll hang up the one we took today."

Mama Qiao was deeply moved. "When I think back, Luoluo was just such a little thing back then. And now, in the blink of an eye, our Luoluo has gotten married himself."

The word 'married' still made Qiao Luo feel a little embarrassed. He demurely said, "It's not like I've actually gotten married."

Mama Qiao said, "Oh, hush. You wear your wedding band in front of me all day, every day. Who are you fooling? Shizhou has already said we'll be having the wedding ceremony this year. Do you plan on turning him down now?"

Qiao Luo's eyes flew wide open. He swiveled to stare at Fu Shizhou and blurted out, "Wedding?!"

Fu Shizhou hadn't been able to stop Mama Qiao from exposing his secret wedding plans. He could only admit, "Mm. Back when Fang Yu and that xuezhang of yours had their ceremony, weren't you super jealous? Naturally, I'll do right by you."

Qiao Luo puffed up with delight. He tugged Fu Shizhou back with him a few steps, falling behind their elders. Once the others were a bit farther away, he lifted himself up on his tiptoes and whispered in Fu Shizhou's ear, "Actually, I wasn't jealous. Xing An isn't as handsome as you."

 

Author's Notes:

Later, due to the issue of whether Xing An is more handsome or Fu Shizhou is more handsome, Fang Yu and Qiao Luo had a big fight and didn't talk to each other for a whole day.

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