MINT-STAINED SHIRT

Chapter 13

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There were pros and cons to having a lot of trees around during the summer months. The good thing was obviously that the trees provided plenty of shade, but there was a downside too. All those trees attracted countless mosquitos and cicadas. They buzzed up a symphony that so loud that Xiao Yu'an was close to being annoyed to death.

Just as he got up to close the window, Ming Shu looked up and said, like a very proper and mature young man, "Gege, you can't close the window. You have to let some air in, or it gets stuffy and you'll get heatstroke."

The little rascal had gotten sick once and learned his lesson. Now, he took especially good care of his body. He always kept the rotating fan on, and he always kept it on the lowest setting. He insisted on leaving the window open at all times. And, like clockwork, he had a mint popsicle every afternoon and a cup of chilled mung bean soup every evening.

He ate popsicles at the Xiao family's house, and he drank mung bean soup at their house too. He ate three meals a day at his own house, and he still slept in his own bed. But, otherwise, he was practically a permanent fixture in the Xiao family's home.

Xiao Yu'an looked down at him. It was early in the afternoon, and the sun was still hanging high in the sky. The sunlight that streamed in through the window was diluted by the leaves of the tree outside. When that light fell across Ming Shu's face, it illuminated his eyes and gave them the appearance of the rippling surface of a deep lake.

The kid was wearing a light blue tank top and dark blue shorts. He had laid claim to Xiao Yu'an's bed, where he was busily constructing the paper and cardboard gun that they had already been working on for days.

Xiao Yu'an's bed was sized for an adult, so to a kid it surely looked massive. But after Ming Shu spread out all his colorful construction paper, there wasn't a single place left for Xiao Yu'an to sit. In order to keep the paper from being blown away, Ming Shu had also borrowed tons of cute toys and stuffed animals from Xiao Jinlan's room to pin down the pages.

At a glance, the bed was a colorful forest of cute little toys. And a much bigger cute toy was sitting cross-legged among them.

Once he was sure his gege wouldn't close the window, Ming Shu sprawled out again and started fiddling with the paper.

Truthfully, with Ming Shu's skills as the champion of his school's crafts competition, he could have put together a gun much sooner. Before his hospital stay, he'd already pretty much finished the project. But his gege had agreed to help him, and after bringing all his materials over to the Xiao family's house and working on the gun with his gege for a whole afternoon, Ming Shu realized that he didn't want to rush anymore.

Ming Shu no longer saw the gun as a task that needed to be completed quickly. Working on the gun was the same as playing, and if he worked on the gun with his gege, that was the same as playing with his gege.

Every day, they could do some work on the gun, then go downstairs and eat popsicles. His gege had already given him a small water gun, so Ming Shu could even have water fights with Xiao Jincheng. When he came back with his tank top wet after playing, his gege helped him dry off with a towel and lent him something to wear.

At night, Ming Shu would change back into his own tank top before going home.

If they finished the gun, he wouldn't have a good excuse to come play with his gege anymore.

Starting from three days ago, Ming Shu had been dragging his feet. Once a piece of paper was neatly glued in place, right where it was supposed to be, he would tear it off again like he was unsatisfied. After completing a perfectly acceptable barrel for the gun, Ming Shu would 'accidentally' crush it in his hands.

At first, Xiao Yu'an didn't realize the little thing was delaying them on purpose. He'd thought, for a while, that Ming Shu was just patient and meticulous.

Xiao Yu'an had been Ming Shu's age once, and of course all kids took crafts lessons at school. Last year, or the year before last, Xiao Jincheng had come home with some crafts homework. It was a pretty easy assignment. All he needed to do was make a paper house.

But Xiao Jincheng could only sit still for a minute or two before running off, abandoning his project. In the end, Xiao Yu'an and Xiao Mu'ting had to act like responsible gege and help him finish the house.

Ming Shu was just a tiny little thing, but he could really concentrate when he set his mind on something. That was worthy of praise.

But it wasn't long before Xiao Yu'an discovered Ming Shu's true intentions. The little thing wasn't patient at all. He obviously just wanted to stick around and keep playing with Xiao Yu'an.

Ming Shu came over every morning as soon as he finished eating breakfast. If Xiao Yu'an was reading or writing, Ming Shu would sit quietly next to him and work on the gun. Once in a while, Ming Shu would ask, "Gege, what do I do with this part?"

Being disrupted was a very irritating thing, but Ming Shu didn't call out to Xiao Yu'an constantly. He would only ever ask for help four or five times in a morning. Most of the time, he kept himself busy and quietly played on his own, occasionally letting out a little hum or whine.

Xiao Yu'an wasn't that engrossed in his books, anyway. He didn't really feel too vexed when Ming Shu called him over. In fact, he felt like moving around between his writing desk and his bed a few times a day was good for him. It was better than hunching over his desk all morning without a break.

And so, despite seeing through Ming Shu's scheme, Xiao Yu'an didn't feel a need to bring it up right away. It was kind of amusing to watch the kid trying to play tricks on him.

As he watched Ming Shu fiddle around with the papers without making any real progress, Xiao Yu'an reached over, picked up a little stuffed dog, and placed it on top of Ming Shu's head. When Ming Shu tilted his head to look up at Xiao Yu'an, the stuffed animal fell off.

"Gege, what are you doing?" Ming Shu asked. He was purely curious. There wasn't a single hint of dissatisfaction in his tone. After he voiced his question, he even picked up the dog and placed it back on top of his own head.

The thing had already fallen down, and yet Ming Shu picked it up and put it back himself. Xiao Yu'an couldn't help but find that funny.

These past few days, it wasn't just Ming Shu calling out for Xiao Yu'an. Once in a while, Xiao Yu'an would get up of his own accord to tease and play with Ming Shu. Little kids loved to play, and Ming Shu could switch gears in an instant. One second, he would be acting like he was hard at work. The very next second, he would reach out to tug on Xiao Yu'an's hand and ask him to play.

His gege was paying attention to him again. Ming Shu's heart soared. He sat perfectly still and didn't move a muscle, for fear of the stuffed animal on his head falling off again.

"How long have you been working on this gun?" Xiao Yu'an asked, deliberately teasing him. "It's still not finished?"

As soon as he heard those words, Ming Shu started to panic. It was plainly written all over his face that he knew he'd lied and done something bad. Little kids who were stricken by guilt often couldn't keep their heads up. Ming Shu subconsciously looked down, and the dog on his head slipped off again and rolled onto the floor.

Ming Shu crawled to the edge of the bed and reached down to pick it up, but his arms were too short. He couldn't reach.

Xiao Yu'an picked it up for him, and Ming Shu immediately put the dog back on his head once more.

If Xiao Jincheng were here, he would have been laughing his ass off. Xiao Yu'an's reaction was nowhere near that exaggerated, but he did feel his stomach twitch twice with restrained laughter.

"I'm asking you," he prompted. "When will you finally finish the gun?"

Ming Shu pursed his lips. When he felt like his gege was rushing him, he deflated. His shoulders slumped and he could hardly keep his back straight, but he still stubbornly kept the stuffed animal perched on top of his head. Finally, he gave an answer that didn't answer the question at all: "I'm working on it."

Xiao Yu'an was close to being unable to hold in his laughter. He was the class monitor, so of course he was never late to turn in his homework. But he was way too familiar with kids who were always late with their homework. Xiao Jincheng was one. Xia Zhong was another.

People would always ask them, "When will you finish your homework?"

And they would always answer, "I'm working on it."

They could all say they were working on it. They could grip a pencil in their right hand and hold down a sheet of paper with their left, but the grand question of when they would finish 'working on it' was never clearly answered.

Xiao Yu'an felt like teasing Ming Shu some more. He picked up some of the pieces scattered around Ming Shu and pretended to examine them. "I know you're working on it," he said. "I asked when you'll finish."

Ming Shu had his heart set on staying at the Xiao family's house. He snuck a glance at his gege before he finally said, "Um… twenty days or so."

In twenty days or so, school would be back in session. Xiao Yu'an furrowed his brows. "You need that long?"

Ming Shu's whole face had gone up in flames, his cheeks reddening as soon as he told the lie. Maybe it was guilt, maybe it was anxiety. In the end, he still insisted, "I do. I'm clumsy, my hands are stupid. Gege, you teach me."

"But it looks to me like you're almost done," Xiao Yu'an said.

Ming Shu played dumb. He mumbled something incomprehensible and wrung his hands.

"I'll help you," Xiao Yu'an said. "We can finish by this afternoon."

As soon as he heard that, Ming Shu knew he was doomed. He didn't want to finish by that afternoon. Once they finished the gun, what would he do? In a moment of desperation, he snatched the pieces of the gun out of Xiao Yu'an's hands and turned away.

With his back to Xiao Yu'an, he said, "I'll do it myself. I can do it."

The stuffed dog had fallen off his head again, but this time Ming Shu didn't seem to be in any mood to pick it back up. Xiao Yu'an finally laughed out loud, and he didn't try to pacify Ming Shu.

Out in the courtyard, someone was talking. And their voice was pretty loud. Loud enough to be heard above the buzzing cicadas. Right away, Xiao Yu'an knew it was Cheng Yue and their other friends.

The sports festival was due to start soon, and everyone was excited. Xiao Yu'an wasn't just participating in the doubles badminton tournament. He had signed up for a few track and field events as well, and he'd agreed to train with Cheng Yue a long time ago.

Xiao Yu'an didn't plan on taking Ming Shu with him. It was a hot day, and it was much cooler indoors. If Ming Shu went out and got heatstroke again, they would have a hard time explaining things to the Ming family.

"Just stay here," Xiao Yu'an said, tousling Ming Shu's hair. "I'm going out for a while."

Ming Shu sat up straight. "Gege, you're not going to play with me anymore?"

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