Xiao Yu'an had never liked Huoju cones. He thought they were too sticky, too messy. Xiao Jincheng was the one who liked them, often greedily gobbling up all the cones in the refrigerator. When Ming Shu took one and placed it in Xiao Yu'an's hand, Xiao Yu'an felt a shock of cold seep into his palm. Then he heard Ming Shu say something that caught his attention:
"Didi will have the mint popsicle."
When Ming Shu uttered those words, he had lifted his head and stared up at Xiao Yu'an with his big, round eyes. It was as though he were waiting to be liked and praised. Of course, Ming Shu was a didi in Xiao Yu'an's eyes. Even if he played with Xiao Jincheng, he could only be a didi. But Xiao Yu'an had never expected him to call himself that, like it was the most natural thing in the world.
Xiao Yu'an couldn't help but laugh as he teased, "What did you just call yourself?"
Ming Shu thought about it for a moment. "Didi?"
In truth, Ming Shu hadn't deliberately given himself the title of 'didi'. It was just that he'd wanted to call Xiao Yu'an 'gege', and he'd followed that up almost subconsciously by taking the role of 'didi'. He had desperately wished to be a child of the Xiao family for so long. Now that Xiao Yu'an had personally invited him over, Ming Shu couldn't see it as anything but all his dreams—of being the didi of the Xiao family—coming true.
But when Xiao Yu'an called attention to it, Ming Shu started to feel a little shy and ashamed. He wasn't anyone's didi yet. Xiao Yu'an hadn't called him 'didi', so how could he give himself that name?
As soon as Ming Shu understood that, he blushed fiercely and bowed his head. He began to fidget, anxiously scraping his fingers over the wrapper of the mint popsicle in his hands, and he didn't dare say anything else.
It was too hot that day. In just a short while, condensation had risen to the surface of the popsicle wrapper. The longer Xiao Yu'an watched Ming Shu, the more he thought Ming Shu was interesting and entertaining. He'd never imagined having a didi could be so much fun.
He took the mint popsicle from Ming Shu and put it back in the refrigerator, along with the Huoju cone that Ming Shu had given him. Ming Shu looked up abruptly with a cry of alarm, gazing longingly into the freezer. He'd even reached out, not wanting to lose the mint popsicle, but quickly snatched his hand back when he grew too embarrassed to take the popsicle back himself.
"You think I'm not going to let you have one?" Xiao Yu'an asked.
Ming Shu blinked up at him and made some faintly distressed sounds, like he wanted to say something, but didn't know how to start.
Xiao Yu'an realized he had been teasing the boy a little too fiercely, and that was no good. Any more teasing would have been considered bullying. He took out a different mint popsicle and unwrapped it before handing it over to Ming Shu.
"The one you were holding was starting to melt," he explained. "Eat this one."
It was no wonder people said little children were like puppies. Ming Shu's eyes instantly lit up with all the joy in his heart. He happily took the popsicle and gave it a lick before beaming up at Xiao Yu'an again.
"Thank you, gege!"
Xiao Yu'an had to marvel at how happy Ming Shu was over something as simple as a popsicle. He took a mint popsicle out for himself as well, even though he didn't often eat those. He preferred 'white' popsicles. Of course, white popsicles weren't just frozen water; that would make them ice cubes. White popsicles were just less sweet than other flavors, and they were almost translucent. They weren't as strongly flavored as the mint ones.
The two of them sat in the kitchen and ate their popsicles. Outside, the cicadas cried. Xiao Jincheng also cried. Ming Shu kept looking outside as he ate. He didn't finish his popsicle as quickly as Xiao Yu'an, and the ice had started to melt. When Xiao Yu'an finished his own popsicle and looked over, he saw the state of Ming Shu's hand.
The melted sugar water had dribbled over his fingers, trickling down to his wrist, staining his hand with the blue-green syrup. Ming Shu didn't have a napkin, so he had started licking his hand clean. Xiao Yu'an instantly started to regret thinking it might be nice to have a little brother.
How could this child have so little concern for cleanliness?
"Go," Xiao Yu'an said, pointing to the sink. "Wash your hands."
Ming Shu was a lot more perceptive than other kids his age. He could instantly tell Xiao Yu'an was irritated with him, and he practically sprinted over to the sink to oblige.
He wasn't born with a gift for perceptiveness. It was just that other children spent all day playing, without leaving themselves any time or energy to think about things like what other people felt. But Ming Shu didn't have a playmate. Even when it came to betting on who would win or lose a fight, he could only bet with himself.
When he had nothing else to do, he thought endlessly about why his mother and father never came home to see him. He thought about why his grandfather and grandmother didn't like him. He thought about these things so much that he'd inevitably developed a more delicate understanding of the human heart.
Xiao Yu'an's irritation had been almost imperceptible, but in just the few words he had uttered, Ming Shu could detect exactly how he felt. But when Ming Shu got to the sink, he couldn't wash his hands. The sink was tall, and he couldn't reach the faucets.
The sink at Ming Shu's house was also tall, but he had a special stool in the kitchen that he could climb on when he needed to wash his hands or anything else. When he needed the kitchen sink, he would always grab the stool himself and bring it over to the sink. He never asked anyone else for help.
Ming Shu looked around and saw that there were stools in this kitchen as well, but those were stools for sitting. He didn't dare step on them. And if he didn't climb up on something, he wouldn't be able to wash his hands. And if he couldn't wash his hands, his hands would stay sticky. And if his hands were sticky, Xiao Yu'an wouldn't like him.
Ming Shu didn't know what to do. He was so anxious that he subconsciously let out a little whimper.
Xiao Yu'an kicked a low stool over to him, but Ming Shu shook his head.
"How are you going to wash your hands if you don't climb up?" Xiao Yu'an asked.
"But this is for sitting," Ming Shu mumbled.
On the one hand, Xiao Yu'an thought this kid was way too troublesome. But on the other hand, even if he was troublesome, he was clearly polite and courteous. He knew the difference between a stool that was for sitting and a stool that could be stepped on. But if he couldn't step on a stool and his legs were too short, then how would he wash his hands?
Well, Xiao Yu'an figured, there was no harm in just picking him up.
Ming Shu had never been hugged or touched so often. When Xiao Yu'an picked him up, he was so startled that he reflexively grabbed onto Xiao Yu'an's shoulder. Which meant…
Now he'd done it. Ming Shu could only stare in horror at the stain he'd left on Xiao Yu'an's pristine white shirt. A bright blue-green handprint that even gave off a minty scent.
"Sorry!" Ming Shu blurted out hastily. "Gege, I only grabbed you because you scared me!"
Xiao Yu'an was silent. He'd also gotten a bit of a shock. Just who was the one doing the scaring here?
Xiao Yu'an really liked this white dress shirt of his. He had only worn it a few times before, and he couldn't stand it when it was stained by even a little bit of dirt or dust. Now, as he looked at the handprint on his shoulder, he felt a ball of anger building in his chest.
But Ming Shu's eyes were so dewy and wet as he continued to apologize over and over again. The anger in Xiao Yu'an's chest was instantly smothered out. If his shirt was stained, then it was stained. How could he take out his irritation on a five-year-old crybaby?
They had already spent half the afternoon together, and Ming Shu had yet to cry in Xiao Yu'an's presence. But he teared up quite often, and those big eyes of his couldn't hide anything when he felt bad, so Xiao Yu'an made the executive decision that Ming Shu was in fact a crybaby.
"It's fine, just wash your hands," Xiao Yu'an said. He held Ming Shu securely as he turned to twist the faucet, running the water for Ming Shu.
Ming Shu did everything earnestly. He stuck his hands under the spray and scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed until Xiao Yu'an warned him he was about to scrub his skin off. It was only then that Ming Shu pulled his hands back and whispered, "Ge, your shirt is dirty."
Oh, so even the little kid knew what was considered dirty? Xiao Yu'an felt a little amused as he set Ming Shu back down. "You're not in a rush to go home, are you?"
It was still early, only a little past three in the afternoon.
Ming Shu shook his head. He definitely wasn't in a rush. In fact, he didn't want to go home at all. Even though it was only his first visit, he had fallen in love with the Xiao family's home. He liked the courtyard, he liked the refrigerator, and he thought the whole place smelled nice.
If he had been a little more shameless, he would have said to Xiao Yu'an, Gege, I'll live here with you now, okay? I'll be your didi. When you fight with Mu'ting-gege, I'll be your little helper. I'll pin Jincheng-gege down by the legs.
But he wasn't shameless, and he was even a bit cowardly. He could never in a million years say something like that.
"I won't go home," Ming Shu said in the end. That was all he could manage.
Xiao Yu'an nodded and got ready to go upstairs to change his clothes. But as soon as he left the kitchen, he heard the pitter-patter of footsteps behind him. When he turned around, he saw Ming Shu right behind him, following him like a tail that had been glued on.
Ming Shu looked a little nervous. "Gege, where are you going?"
Xiao Yu'an didn't like it when people fussed over him or nagged at him or watched his every move. Even his grandpa and grandma didn't care where he went or what he did, and yet this child who'd dirtied his shirt thought he had a right to ask?
Xiao Yu'an pointed back at one of the stools in the kitchen and commanded, "Sit over there."
Ming Shu let out another little whimper and reached out to tug on the hem of Xiao Yu'an's shirt. "But where are you going?"