MINT-STAINED SHIRT

Chapter 23

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After being lectured by his grandfather, Ming Shu slunk home in a sullen mood. He didn't even eat dinner before running over to the Xiao family's house. He felt like he'd been wronged and mistreated, and he wanted his gege to comfort him.

But only Grandpa Xiao and Grandma Xiao were home. When Ming Shu asked when his gege would be back, Grandpa Xiao told him classes would be starting tomorrow and Xiao Yu'an planned on playing with his friends until late that night.

Ming Shu had no choice but to go back to his own house, kicking at rocks along the way.

During summer break, Ming Shu had gotten into the habit of going to see his gege right after dinner. If his gege wanted to swim or play soccer, Ming Shu would go along. If his gege wanted to stay home and read, Ming Shu would sprawl out in his bed and read his own picture books.

Now that school was starting, and now that his gege was gone, Ming Shu could only stay in his own room. But he just didn't know how to feel at home there anymore. He didn't feel right when he sat, and he didn't feel right when he stood.

In Ming Shu's class, there was a kid named Liang Xiaoming who'd been diagnosed with ADHD. She could never sit still, and Little Tao-laoshi had always told her to learn from Ming Shu's good habits. But Ming Shu felt like he had practically turned into Liang Xiaoming. He couldn't sit still anymore either. All he wanted was to go back over to the Xiao family's house.

Over the break, Ming Shu's grandfather hadn't paid much attention to him. He didn't care when Ming Shu went over to sleep at the Xiao family's house. But now he wouldn't let Ming Shu sleep over there anymore, saying that the two older Xiao boys were getting ready to enter middle school and that Ming Shu wasn't allowed to disturb their studies.

But Ming Shu's gege was obviously out playing, not studying. Ming Shu continued to brood, slumped over his windowsill.

His house was located in front of the Xiao family's house. When his gege returned, he would have to pass under Ming Shu's window.

Just as expected, at eight that night, Ming Shu saw his gege.

 

After buying the yo-yos, Xiao Yu'an had gone on ahead to the ice skating rink to meet up with Cheng Yue and the others. The rink was a new attraction in the neighborhood, and for many of the kids it was their first time on ice skates. Lots of them fell on their butts and wound up sprawled out on the ice, but Xiao Yu'an had always had a good sense of balance. After taking some instructions from a coach, he was able to skate on his own.

The plan had been for everyone to grab dinner together after skating, but besides Xiao Yu'an and Cheng Yue, everyone left the rink with pains and aches all over. All the other kids were whining about going home, so Xiao Yu'an and Cheng Yue just each bought a jianbing and headed home after eating.

Before he even reached his own front door, Xiao Yu'an heard a familiar voice.

"Gege! You're back!"

Xiao Yu'an looked up and found Ming Shu hanging halfway out a window.

"Don't lie in the window," Xiao Yu'an said. It was too easy for little kids to fall out when they sprawled over the windowsill like that. Xiao Yu'an had warned Ming Shu against lying there several times. He added a bit of fierceness to his words this time, and Ming Shu quickly scrambled back inside.

But Ming Shu wasn't scared by Xiao Yu'an's admonishment. He was just thrilled to see his gege, and he couldn't rush downstairs fast enough.

Ming Han called out to him, warning him against bothering other people this late at night, but Ming Shu called back, while running for the front door, "I'm not bothering them. My gege called me out."

It had only been a day since they last saw each other, but when Ming Shu leapt into his arms, Xiao Yu'an felt like the little sprout was acting like they hadn't seen each other in weeks.

"Gege, I missed you to death!"

Hearing this, Xiao Yu'an instantly felt happier. He had originally planned on scolding Ming Shu a little for hanging out the window, but he suddenly forgot all about that.

The first floor of the Xiao family's house was brightly lit. Xiao Mu'ting was, astonishingly enough, helping Xiao Jincheng with his homework.

But those two brothers could fight even while studying. Xiao Jincheng wasn't paying attention, and Xiao Mu'ting's patience was wearing thin. He would rap his knuckles against his didi's head to get him to focus, and Xiao Jincheng would hit him right back. The living room soon descended into chaos.

As soon as Xiao Yu'an got back, Xiao Mu'ting immediately tried to hand over all his responsibilities. "You do it, you do it! This little brat won't let any new information into his brain!"

Seeing that his gege was about to be taken away and made to help Xiao Jincheng study, Ming Shu hastily grabbed onto Xiao Yu'an's hand. He definitely didn't want to let his gege go. To Xiao Mu'ting, he said, "Mu'ting-gege, you should be the one to educate your own didi."

Xiao Mu'ting blinked. He hadn't expected the little sprout to be so eloquent. "Huh?"

Naturally, Xiao Yu'an had less than zero interest in teaching Xiao Jincheng anything. He grinned and said, "That's right. You should educate your own didi."

After going upstairs, Xiao Yu'an went to take a shower and Ming Shu went through his backpack. Ming Shu wasn't rifling through Xiao Yu'an's backpack like a thief, though. His gege had asked him to help him unpack his new textbooks.

Ming Shu pulled out book after book, and each one was pretty thick. As he helped unpacked, he thought about how many books he would have to carry when he started elementary school. He wanted to carry all these books too. He wanted to go to school with his gege.

Once he'd taken out all the books, Ming Shu saw something else at the bottom of the backpack. He reached in and felt around a little, and pulled out—

It was a yo-yo!

After his shower, Xiao Yu'an had gone back out to the courtyard to wash his clothes. The late-summer breeze was cool and comfortable. He didn't like letting other people touch his personal belongings, and he definitely didn't need Ming Shu to help him organize his textbooks. What would a little kid know about organizing textbooks? Worst case scenario, Ming Shu could even get the pages all crinkly.

But Xiao Yu'an had wanted Ming Shu to find the yo-yos.

It wasn't easy to just give that sort of thing to Ming Shu out of the blue. It was better to let the kid find it on his own.

Xiao Yu'an had just finished hanging up his clothes to dry when he saw Ming Shu running down the stairs, holding the yo-yos.

"Gege, gege! Yo-yos!"

The two yo-yos both sparkled. During the day, the sunlight was too fierce and the sparkliness wasn't as obvious. But at night, the light reflected by the yo-yos was much more pronounced. It scattered over Ming Shu's cheeks and eyes, illuminating his face.

Xiao Yu'an dried his hands and feigned surprised. "Ah, what are you doing with my yo-yos?"

Ming Shu clutched the yo-yos like they were his most precious treasures. He'd just cried over those yo-yos today, and now he'd found two in his gege's backpack. Ming Shu had played with lots of his gege's toys before. All of his gege's toys were his toys too!

"You play with yo-yos too!" Ming Shu exclaimed. When he gave them a shake, they sparkled even more under the lights from the house. "Did you buy them today?"

"You wanna play with them?" Xiao Yu'an asked.

"My grandfather wouldn't buy one for me." Ming Shu had felt pretty miserable about that at the time, but he didn't feel miserable at all now. He took one yo-yo in each hand and started to swing them around, but naturally he couldn't get the hang of it right away. The strings quickly became tangled around his hands, and he even smacked himself in the face with one of the yo-yos.

"Stupid," Xiao Yu'an teased. He took the red-and-gold yo-yo, leaving the blue-and-green one to Ming Shu. With a flick of the wrist, he retracted the string and caught the yo-yo in the palm of his hand. He threw it again, and caught it again. "Like this. Got it?"

Ming Shu mimicked Xiao Yu'an's motions, but he threw the yo-yo too hard and didn't catch it when it came back. It smacked into his forehead again.

"Ouch!"

"Give it here." Xiao Yu'an waited for Ming Shu to pass him the blue-and-green yo-yo too. After taking it in his other hand, he started to swing both yo-yos at the same time.

Ming Shu was utterly enthralled. He clapped his hands and bounced in place as he watched, calling out, "Gege, you're amazing! You're too cool!"

There was no boy Xiao Yu'an's age who was immune to praise. He started to throw and flip the yo-yos even more vigorously, creating a spray of light and color like the owner of the yo-yo shop had done.

"Which one do you want?" Xiao Yu'an asked. After he'd grown tired of playing with them, he held both yo-yos out in front of Ming Shu.

Ming Shu took the blue-and-green one without even thinking about it.

"Then I'll give this one to Xiao Jincheng," Xiao Yu'an said, taking back the other

"It's for Jincheng-gege?" Ming Shu asked, clutching his own yo-yo tight.

"I've played enough. You two can share."

Ming Shu eyed the red-and-gold yo-yo for a long time before he reached out.

Xiao Yu'an lightly smacked the back of his hand. "You want this one too?"

Ming Shu batted his eyes up at him. "Jincheng-gege is already eight years old. He doesn't play with these anymore."

Internally, Xiao Yu'an laughed. This little thing was pretty greedy.

Ming Shu's wishes were fulfilled beyond his wildest imagination. He got two yo-yos and followed Xiao Yu'an back up to his room. While Xiao Yu'an organized his books, Ming Shu stood next to him and played with the yo-yos.

He rambled while he swung them around, without any technique or finesse. He talked about his mother, who never picked him up from school, and he talked about his grandfather, who never bought him any of the toys or snacks outside the kindergarten. He said he was like a Cinder-boy.

Xiao Yu'an didn't understand right away what a Cinder-boy was supposed to be, so Ming Shu went on to tell him the story of Cinderella. Xiao Yu'an couldn't help but find that comparison a bit funny, but at the same time he felt like the Ming family was really too cold and strict. There was just no reason for them to treat Ming Shu like that.

After rambling for ages, Ming Shu suddenly said, "But I'm not a Cinder-boy, I'm a Cinder-didi."

It didn't seem like there was a big difference between a Cinder-boy and a Cinder-didi, but a didi had a gege. Ming Shu felt like a Cinder-didi was much more fortunate than a Cinder-boy. He had a yo-yo now. Two of them, even. He was a fortunate, happy Cinder-didi.

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Chapter 23

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