MINT-STAINED SHIRT

Chapter 17

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"What were you shouting?"

Xiao Yu'an was wearing a white t-shirt, and Ming Shu had been gripping a rusted handrail earlier. When Ming Shu grabbed onto Xiao Yu'an's shirt, he left a streaky handprint of rust behind. Usually, that would have been enough to make Xiao Yu'an angry. Why did it seem like Ming Shu was out to destroy all of his white shirts? Every time Xiao Yu'an left the house in a white shirt these days, he came home with a bunch of handprints staining the fabric.

But taking first place had put Xiao Yu'an in a good mood, and he wasn't much cleaner than Ming Shu. Only Ming Shu's hands were dirty. He was wearing overalls with a white polo shirt and bow tie, and there wasn't a single speck of dust or dirt on him. Meanwhile, Xiao Yu'an was covered in sweat, which got all over Ming Shu when he picked Ming Shu up.

So Xiao Yu'an wasn't too concerned about Ming Shu's dirty hands. He was more concerned about what he'd heard near the end of the race: 'Gege isn't stupid!'

"How is gege stupid?"

Ming Shu's eyes widened to saucers. Meekly, he squeaked, "Huh?"

He had run up to his gege to congratulate him, not to be hugged. When his gege suddenly picked him up, Ming Shu hadn't been prepared. In his alarm, he'd dropped his gun to the ground. That gun was his precious treasure right now. When it fell, Ming Shu didn't know if it got hurt, but he felt pretty hurt.

The little kid seemed so surprised that Xiao Yu'an couldn't help but tease him some more. It really was addictive. "I'm asking you a question. How is gege stupid?"

Kids around Ming Shu's age were particularly prone to having short attention spans. They could say something one second and forget all about it the next. Plus, Ming Shu was a little dizzy with giddiness after racing up to Xiao Yu'an. How could he possibly remember what he'd said a moment ago?

Gege wasn't stupid, anyway. Gege was the smartest!

"Gege, the gun." Ming Shu decided he simply wouldn't answer the question that he didn't know how to answer. He looked down at the ground, fidgeting anxiously over the fallen gun. "Gege, it fell."

Cheng Yue approached just then. He picked up the gun for Ming Shu, then wiped his sweaty forehead with his equally sweaty forearm. "You held back at the beginning on purpose?"

Xiao Yu'an took the gun. "I told you to train up your endurance. You didn't listen."

Cheng Yue wasn't too bothered about losing. He and Xiao Yu'an were tight. It didn't really matter which one of them took first and which one of them took second. He could be happy for Xiao Yu'an, but with Xiao Yu'an scolding him like that, Cheng Yue instinctively retorted, "Yeah, well, I told you to work on your starting sprint. Did you listen?"

The person who had charged into second place at the start of the race was Chen Tie. He was a year older than Cheng Yue and Xiao Yu'an, but he'd started school late and wound up in their grade. He took advantage of his height and strength and tyrannized the other kids at school and in their neighborhood. Cheng Yue hated him, and they'd gotten into several fights in the past year alone.

Chen Tie couldn't overpower Xiao Yu'an and Cheng Yue, so he took it out on younger kids. Even Xiao Jincheng had been bullied by him before. Of course, Xiao Jincheng wouldn't take a beating without seeking payback. He told Xiao Mu'ting, and Chen Tie didn't dare show his face around them for a whole month after that.

Xiao Yu'an was still holding the gun, and Ming Shu wanted to hold it himself. He reached for it, only to have Xiao Yu'an hold it farther away. Ming Shu instantly became restless and started to whine. "Gege, give it back."

Cheng Yue grinned as he watched. "This gun's pretty nice. I saw it at the starting line. What, are you giving it to your Yu'an-gege?"

Ming Shu stopped whining and gave a proper answer: "No."

"No?" Cheng Yue gasped and feigned shock. "Then why did you bring it here? Are you just showing off? Trying to make your ge jealous? That's not nice at all. At the starting line, he even told me this would be his present if he won the race."

Ming Shu's eyes widened with genuine shock. He quickly turned to look at Xiao Yu'an. "Gege?"

Xiao Yu'an obviously knew Cheng Yue was talking nonsense, but it was ridiculously fun to tease the little thing. He played along and asked, "It's not my prize?"

It's my gift! Ming Shu protested fiercely in his mind. You didn't give me a seashell gun, so I made this myself. How can it be your prize?!

Ming Shu liked his gege. But that didn't mean he could happily give away his treasured gun just because his gege wanted it.

Xiao Yu'an watched as Ming Shu scrunched up his whole face with obvious indignance. It was such a funny sight that Xiao Yu'an almost couldn't hold back a laugh. Just as he was getting ready to telling Ming Shu that it was fine, and that he could keep the gun, Ming Shu spoke up of his own accord:

"It's your prize, gege."

Ming Shu had realized something. He had been angry and indignant and totally unwilling to part ways with his paper gun until he remembered the bracelets his gege had given him. He wore them even now, the pink one on one wrist and the mint-colored one on the other. They even shimmered under the sunlight.

Xiao Yu'an was a bit surprised. "You'd really give it to me?"

Now, Ming Shu was feeling generous. "It's gege's prize for winning first place!"

Off to the side, Cheng Yue was laughing so hard that his stomach had started to ache.

At just that time, from the other side, someone snorted. "Even the 400-meter dash is worth celebrating, huh?"

Xiao Yu'an knew without looking that it was Chen Tie, who he had passed halfway through the race. The 400-meter dash just so happened to be Chen Tie's specialty. His height and long legs gave him a natural advantage. He'd won first place last year, beating out Xiao Yu'an and Cheng Yue. This year, not only had he lost first place, he hadn't even managed to take second. He was bound to be upset.

Xiao Yu'an wasn't really interested in arguing with a sore loser, and he had other events to look forward to. Cheng Yue was naturally hotheaded, but he usually didn't bother with Chen Tie either. Of course, when Chen Tie talked shit, Cheng Yue naturally had to talk back.

"What's wrong with celebrating?" Cheng Yue retorted. "If you have friends, go celebrate with them."

Chen Tie sneered fiercely, arrogantly. "What are you so proud of, Number Two? You think you're hot shit for coming in second?"

Cheng Yue shrugged and seemed unbothered. "Better than coming in third."

Xiao Yu'an set Ming Shu down and took his hand, leading him off to find Xiao Mu'ting. They'd already walked a considerable distance when Ming Shu looked back. He just so happened to make eye contact with Chen Tie, who glowered at him with a hateful look on his face. Ming Shu jumped, so scared that he couldn't turn back around fast enough.

 

Before lunch, Xiao Yu'an won first place in the long jump as well. The boys from the Xiao family were the stars of the festival. Xiao Yu'an and Xiao Mu'ting came in first in every event they signed up for.

Ming Shu was deliriously happy. He had never participated in such a big social event before. At first, he had been a little tense. He could only stick close to Xiao Jinlan and cheer for his gege. After his gege took first place in a few events, Ming Shu really learned to let loose. His voice was still pure and soft, but he proudly cheered with more enthusiasm than anyone else. He grew so energetic that Xiao Jinlan could hardly keep an eye on him anymore.

There wasn't an overabundance of small children in their community. By that afternoon, everyone in the crowd had taken note of Ming Shu. There were those who thought he was adorable, as well as those who found him annoying. The kids who'd lost to Xiao Yu'an found him especially irritating.

The main event of the afternoon was the badminton tournament. There weren't enough kids in the community to form teams for big team sports, so the sports festival usually only had badminton and table tennis tournaments. Sometimes there would be a basketball tournament as well. There actually was one this year, but Xiao Yu'an hadn't signed up for it.

Chen Tie was also participating in the badminton tournament, but he lost to Xiao Yu'an and Xiao Mu'ting in the semifinals. He was so pissed that he smashed his racket on the ground.

He hadn't won a single event that year. The 400-meter dash had been his first event of the day, and the doubles badminton tournament had been his last. All day, he heard that little runt called Ming Shu chirping away like an inexhaustible Duracell battery. The kid incessantly shouted, 'Gege! Gege!'

It was annoying as fuck.

As soon as he left the badminton courts, Chen Tie saw Ming Shu. The tiny brat was going somewhere by himself. There were no adults watching over him, and Xiao Yu'an's big sister was nowhere to be found. Chen Tie had been smothering his rage all day, and now he finally had a way to vent.

Ming Shu had cheered himself hoarse. He was on his way home to get a mint popsicle. Of course, this 'home' was the Xiao family's home. Ming Shu had grown bold, and now he was more comfortable opening their Sheriff Blackcat refrigerator than the refrigerator in his own house.

He knew he had to rush. Jiejie had told him that there was only a half-hour break between the semifinals and finals, so Ming Shu wanted to finish eating quickly and hurry back to watch his gege play some more. But he'd only just started running home when someone suddenly blocked his way.

Ming Shu looked up and saw that it was the boy who had fought with Cheng Yue earlier that morning.

Ming Shu was scared. He looked left and right, but there was no one around. He turned and wanted to run, but a hand snapped out and caught him by the collar of his shirt, yanking him back so hard that he choked.

"Isn't this Xiao Yu'an's didi?" Chen Tie laughed darkly. "I saw you cheering pretty hard. Just who is Xiao Yu'an to you? And, heh, why are you trying to run?"

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