Most boys loved playing with guns. Xiao Yu'an had also made his own before, but he found it a little surprising that Ming Shu of all people would try to make a gun. Ming Shu was just too pretty. It wasn't that he looked like a girl, but he did look fair and delicate. His features were quite dainty and refined.
Boys who were as pretty as Ming Shu were often misunderstood. Xiao Yu'an hadn't expected Ming Shu to be interested in stuff like guns and tanks. When Ming Shu asked for a gift, Xiao Yu'an had instantly thought of the pearls he'd brought back. Right away, he'd assumed Ming Shu would like something pretty and shiny, and he was sure pearls would look good on Ming Shu too.
Otherwise, he wouldn't have asked Xiao Jinlan for the mint-colored pearl bracelet.
Ming Shu only sat properly for a while before he started to fidget. He reached out and scratched at his foot as he explained, "I wanted to finish the gun quickly, so I couldn't keep the fan on."
Xiao Yu'an had once spent months making a paper and cardboard gun. He had no idea why Ming Shu was in such a hurry. "Why did you need to finish it so fast?"
Ming Shu looked at him. "I wanted to hurry so that I would have a gift, too."
At first, Xiao Yu'an couldn't make heads or tails of that answer. But the word 'gift' had buzzed through his ear countless times recently. Two days ago, Ming Shu had seen him give seashell guns to Xiao Mu'ting and Xiao Jincheng.
Did Ming Shu want a seashell gun too?
And Xiao Yu'an hadn't brought one for him. So he decided to make one himself?
If that was really why Ming Shu had gotten heatstroke and heat rash, then Xiao Yu'an would have to feel super, super bad.
"You wanted a gift from me?" Xiao Yu'an asked, uncertain.
Ming Shu blinked, then nodded. And it was quite an enthusiastic nod; his chin almost touched his chest. "I wanted a gift from gege, but gege didn't have a gift for me, so I made one for myself."
Xiao Yu'an took a deep, long breath. He didn't know if the hospital room was too stuffy or what, but his head suddenly felt hot and swollen.
Ming Shu had been too bashful to tell Xiao Yu'an about the gun at first, but once he started talking, he couldn't stop. He rambled on and on about drawing the outlines and cutting out the paper and cardboard pieces. He even bragged about taking first place in a crafts competition at school.
Little kids may have been pure and innocent, but they instinctively loved being spoiled and pampered. What kid didn't enjoy being spoiled? That instinct to seek attention allowed them to be straightforward in a way older kids and adults often weren't. They didn't hesitate to brag or complain to attract praise and sympathy. It was only around the age of ten that kids started feeling too prideful to behave that way.
As Ming Shu talked, Xiao Yu'an listened. And the more he listened, the guiltier he felt. He didn't even slap Ming Shu's hand away when Ming Shu reached out to him with the same hand he'd used to scratch his foot.
"When you get home, don't work on the gun anymore," Xiao Yu'an blurted out unthinkingly.
Ming Shu's eyes went wide. How could he give up on the gun? He didn't have a seashell gun. Was he not even allowed to make a paper one for himself?
"If you want a gun, I have one at home," Xiao Yu'an said. In fact, he had loads of them. But after thinking about it for a moment, he specified, "One that I made myself."
Ming Shu gasped. "Gege, you know how to make guns too?"
Xiao Yu'an frowned faintly. Was the little kid looking down on him?
"Did you think you were the only one who knew how?" Xiao Yu'an retorted.
Ming Shu was a clever kid, and he was at the age where he believed he could do anything by himself. But a better idea suddenly popped into his head. "Then, gege, let's make one together."
Xiao Yu'an had absolutely no interest in making a paper and cardboard gun with a little kid, but he couldn't say no to Ming Shu. It was kinda, sorta Xiao Yu'an's fault that the kid had gotten sick, so Xiao Yu'an knew he had to make it up to him.
As soon as Xiao Yu'an nodded, a smile exploded across Ming Shu's face like a burst of fireworks. Ming Shu tried to grab his hand again, but this time Xiao Yu'an remembered Ming Shu had just been picking at his foot. He still felt bad for Ming Shu, but at the same time he thought Ming Shu's hands were grubby, so he quickly pulled his hands away.
Ming Shu pouted.
Pouting wasn't a good habit, and whimpering and whining weren't good habits either. Little kids were just like that until their parents taught them to stop. Xiao Yu'an wasn't Ming Shu's parent, and he was still just a kid himself. But when he saw Ming Shu throwing his little tantrum, a sense of duty rose up within Xiao Yu'an.
"No pouting," he chided, lifting one hand to pinch Ming Shu's cheek.
Ming Shu had never been pinched like that before. He whimpered and squirmed, so Xiao Yu'an also pinched his other cheek with his other hand.
"No whimpering either. How old are you?"
That was a rhetorical question. Xiao Yu'an had already learned, when he saved Ming Shu from the tree between their houses, that Ming Shu was five. He just wanted to remind Ming Shu that five-year-old boys weren't supposed to behave that way.
But Ming Shu didn't have the first clue what a rhetorical question was. Like a good boy, he promptly answered, "I'm five!"
He was still so proud of being five. Xiao Yu'an was baffled. Was that something to be proud of? It was like they came from different generations or different worlds, but Xiao Yu'an felt it would have been too troublesome to question Ming Shu about that.
Ming Shu finally reached up and patted Xiao Yu'an's wrist. "Gege," he pleaded. "Ge, let go of me. Your hands are dirty."
Xiao Yu'an blinked, surprised. He was usually the one who complained that others were dirty. Who had ever told him that he was dirty? Besides, he'd used the hand sanitizer by the door when he first entered the hospital room.
"I touched your hand earlier," Ming Shu explained. "And before that, I touched my foot with my hand."
Xiao Yu'an had to laugh. "Oh, so you know you touched your foot with your hand?"
Ming Shu giggled meekly too.
Xiao Yu'an finally let him go and remembered the bracelets in his pocket. He took them out and put them on for Ming Shu. One mint-colored, one pink. One for each wrist.
Ming Shu was extremely pale; the colors of the bracelets suited him perfectly. As soon as he put them on for Ming Shu, Xiao Yu'an got up and took a step back. Ming Shu had wanted a gift so badly, and now he had two. He was sure to be ecstatic.
But much to Xiao Yu'an's surprise, Ming Shu's cheery laughs subsided and he instantly started to cry. He brought up his hands to rub at his eyes, crying harder and harder until he could barely breathe.
Xiao Yu'an felt a little panicked. He hastily hugged Ming Shu to his chest. "What's wrong? You don't like them?"
Ming Shu stared at the bracelets through his teary eyes. Then he lowered his head and gave each one a kiss, clearly treasuring them dearly.
"Gege, this is the first time I've gotten a gift."
Xiao Yu'an didn't react right away. For a moment, he didn't even understand what Ming Shu was saying. Gifts were a commonplace thing in the Xiao family. Before Xiao Yu'an and Xiao Mu'ting were born, their parents had prepared celebratory gold lockets and bracelets for them. Xiao Yu'an got presents at every birthday, and he regularly received gifts at random times throughout the year as well.
His grandpa and grandma had three children; Xiao Yu'an's father was the middle child, with an older brother and a younger sister. Xiao Yu'an's aunt had only married recently and didn't have any children yet. She doted on the four kids of the Xiao family like crazy. Every time she visited her parents, she loaded up the back of her car with countless gifts for the kids. Even when she didn't visit, she would constantly send presents in the mail.
Xiao Yu'an celebrated birthdays with his classmates, too. Whenever someone had a birthday, they would invite everyone over for a meal and all their guests would bring gifts.
If someone had asked Xiao Yu'an to count up how many presents he'd received in his lifetime, he wouldn't have been able to do it. There were just too many.
And now Ming Shu was saying those bracelets were the first gift he'd ever received.
Xiao Yu'an knew the Ming family wasn't poor, and surely they wouldn't mistreat a child. But with the way Ming Shu cried from the bottom of his heart, he couldn't possibly have been lying. Xiao Yu'an could only assume that, even though their families were similarly wealthy, they had different philosophies about raising children. The Xiao children's parents frequently came home to surprise the kids with 'present bonanzas', while the Ming family didn't even give gifts on birthdays.
Knowing this, Xiao Yu'an felt sorrier and sorrier for the little sprout. Now everything made sense. This must have been why Ming Shu had run off, pouting, when he'd realized there was no present for him.
Xiao Yu'an thought back to his own fifth birthday. It had been his last birthday before starting elementary school, which made it significant enough to warrant a big party. His birthday and Xiao Mu'ting's birthday were too close, so they always celebrated together.
Their aunt arrived long before the day of the party and decorated their courtyard to look like a little amusement park. She put up balloons and colorful streamers everywhere, and she had rented out several of the little toy cars that kids could drive around.
Just about every kid in their military community attended the party. Xiao Yu'an and Xiao Mu'ting each donned a pointy birthday hat and accepted gift after gift after gift until their hands were sore. Afterwards, Cheng Yue told Xiao Yu'an that his birthday bash had been such a big deal that even the kids from the neighboring residential community had heard about it.
And when had the neighboring Ming family ever thrown a birthday party for Ming Shu? Xiao Yu'an couldn't remember a single instance.
Ming Shu was still crying and reverently kissing the bracelets on his wrists. Little kids only had a few simple ways of expressing their joy. Besides simply saying that they liked something, they only knew how to show their affection by smiling, kissing, or hugging fiercely without letting go.
Xiao Yu'an, sitting on the edge of the bed, felt a little melancholic just watching him. He wanted to reach out and pat Ming Shu on the head, but Ming Shu suddenly tried to grab his hand again.
If Ming Shu just wanted to hold his hand, then Xiao Yu'an would let him hold it. Maybe that was also one of Ming Shu's ways of showing affection. He didn't expect Ming Shu to hiccup once and abruptly stop crying, without even needing anyone to console him.
He also didn't expect Ming Shu to take his offered hand and use it to wipe his tears and snot.
Xiao Yu'an stared at the shiny streak of tears smeared across the back of his hand. He could have gotten angry, or he could have laughed. If it had been any other kid, he would have already pushed them off and bolted to the nearest faucet to wash his hands.
But he couldn't do that to Ming Shu. In his eyes, Ming Shu had become a child who was clearly 'unloved'.
So, just for now, Xiao Yu'an could be the one to love him.