The snack stalls outside the school gate opened at 7 PM. Each simple pushcart, with its uniform banner, seemed humble but exuded a warmth and charm that outshone the glitzy commercial buildings nearby.
During the weekend, there weren’t many people around, unlike the bustling crowd Tang Zhou encountered on his previous visit.
He followed Fu Shen and three others toward the barbecue stall.
Halfway there, Fu Shen suddenly stopped and said, “Liang Cheng, you guys go first.”
Then he looked at Tang Zhou.
Beside them was a stall selling glutinous dumplings. Tang Zhou understood immediately and his eyes curved in a smile.
He thought he wouldn’t get to eat dumplings tonight, but to his surprise, Fu Shen remembered.
Liang Cheng had just been talking to Fu Shen, so he knew he shouldn’t jump to conclusions, but after seeing their secret interactions, he couldn’t convince himself otherwise.
However he was certain that whatever was going on between them wasn’t anything as crass as a “sugar daddy support” relationship.
After the three others had walked away, Fu Shen led Tang Zhou to the stall and ordered two servings of dumplings.
Luckily, there were fewer people today, so they didn’t need to queue.
The stall owner, a friendly looking middle-aged man, eyed the pair and started making the dumplings, saying, “You’re a handsome young lad, and a high achieving student from Jiang University, you have a bright future ahead.”
Despite his straightforward accent and not-so-sophisticated praise, Tang Zhou didn’t feel awkward but instead felt at ease.
Fu Shen chuckled and replied, “Your dumplings are tasty and affordable, your business is bound to boom.”
With the mutual flattery, the stall owner laughed and added a few extra pieces.
The fragrant soup was poured into disposable paper bowls, making Tang Zhou’s stomach rumble.
Fu Shen picked up the two servings of dumplings, his face half hidden in the shadows. Amid the bustling market, he looked exceptionally gentle, “Let’s go find Liang Cheng and the others.”
The barbecue stall was filled with smoke, but Tang Zhou sat down, trying to suppress his discomfort.
Pi Xiu asked, “What did you two buy?”
“Dumplings.” Li Fengyu responded. “Fu Shen loves the ones from that stall.”
Apart from Fu Shen, nobody in their dorm loved sweet treats.
Pi Xiu teased, laughing, “Fu Shen couldn’t find any fans, so he dragged Tang Shen into it, huh?”
Fu Shen ignored them and scooped up some soup to sip.
Tang Zhou explained voluntarily, “The taste is actually quite good.”
Li Fengyu downed some beer and laughed, “Fu Shen is lucky to have found a kindred spirit like Tang Shen.”
Hearing them say “Shen Ge, Shen Ge”, made Tang Zhou ask curiously, “In your dormitory, is Fu Shen the oldest?”
He had never paid attention to other people’s ages before.
“Yes, Shen Ge is a year older than all of us.” Pi Xiu said openly, “Shen Ge said he repeated an extra year in middle school before he managed to get into high school.”
Tang Zhou: “….”
Given Fu Shen’s learning ability, how could it be possible for him to need to repeat a year?
Suddenly, he remembered that the investigative email had mentioned that Fu Shen’s grandfather had passed away during his school years. It was such a great shock to him that he had to take a year off.
Tang Zhou felt a slight pause in his heart. He sneaked a glance at Fu Shen and saw that he was still eating with great enjoyment, seemingly indifferent, so he removed his gaze and lowered his eyes.
The barbecue platter was quickly served. There were various types of skewers on it that Tang Zhou couldn’t name, but the smell of pepper and chili powder hit him, whetting his appetite.
He picked up a skewer of grilled lamb, took a bite and began to chew slowly.
Honestly, it wasn’t delicious. The lamb wasn’t fresh, the texture was poor, and the chili powder was a bit choking. He scooped a spoonful of soup to swallow down the meat without changing his expression.
This was a bit difficult.
He couldn’t possibly throw it away after just one bite. It would be wasteful and potentially offensive.
Just then, Fu Shen moved closer and asked, “Are you full from eating the dumplings?”
“En?” Tang Zhou hummed through his nose, not understanding the question.
Fu Shen extended his hand naturally, “If you can’t eat it, give it to me.”
Tang Zhou stared at him for a few seconds before solemnly handing the lamb skewer to him. He let out a silent sigh of relief, but a question rose in his mind.
Did Fu Shen notice that he didn’t like it and decided to do this?
Watching Fu Shen devour the skewer, Tang Zhou felt both grateful and awkward.
He was so engrossed in watching that he didn’t notice when Fu Shen suddenly turned to look at him and asked with raised eyebrows, “What’s wrong?”
Tang Zhou’s heart skipped a beat. In his flustered state, he noticed some pepper powder at the corner of Fu Shen’s mouth. Without thinking, he reached out and gently wiped it off, saying, “You’ve got something on you.”
The atmosphere suddenly became tense.
Fu Shen’s eyes darkened as he quietly looked at him for a few seconds. Seeing Tang Zhou turn his face away and retract his hand in panic, he instinctively grabbed his wrist.
His other hand took out a piece of tissue and with lowered eyebrows, wiped off the dirt from Tang Zhou’s fingers.
Tang Zhou tried to pull back, but it didn’t work.
His cheeks started to heat up slightly.
Fu Shen was very meticulous in his wiping, as if he was trying to make those jade white fingertips completely free of dirt.
“It’s okay.” Tang Zhou said with pursed lips.
Fu Shen paused for a moment, reluctantly letting go of his wrist, but he still held the tissue in his hand.
What was happening to him?
The other three weren’t fools. Pi Xiu laughed awkwardly, trying to ease the peculiar atmosphere, “Shen Ge and Tang Shen sure are close! I’ve always heard people say Tang Shen is cold and aloof, but who knew he’s so caring. Ha ha.”
The others: “….” If you can’t talk properly, just keep quiet!
Tang Zhou’s cheeks were burning hot. He stood up, apologising, “I suddenly remembered I have something to do. You guys eat slowly, I’ll take my leave first.”
If he stayed any longer, he figured he would combust.
Fu Shen: “I’ll see you out.”
Tang Zhou shook his head, feigning indifference, “Fu Assistant, take the night off.”
Everyone stood up and watched him leave. The atmosphere turned awkward and gloomy for a moment.
Pi Xiu ruffled his hair, a pained expression on his face, “Did I say something wrong? Does Tang Shen hate me now?”
He didn’t mean to, he was just trying to lighten the mood, but he messed it up.
“No.” Fu Shen crumpled the tissue in his hand, “He’s not that narrow minded.”
“Shen Ge.” Liang Cheng changed the topic, “You won an award in Fan City. Let’s celebrate tonight, cheers!”
Fu Shen, his mood a chaotic mess, picked up a can of beer and began to drink in silence.
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