When Xiao Lanyue received a call from his son, he thought for a moment that Xiao Yu'an had done something at school which required him to call in a parent. That certainly would have been a rare occurrence.
His two kids, a boy and a girl, were almost inordinately good kids. The younger Xiao Yu'an was even less troublesome than his older sister Xiao Jinlan. The elder was a girl, and naturally her parents worried about her. But Xiao Yu'an had been calm and steady ever since he was pint-sized. He'd never once had to call his parents into school before. If he really had gotten into trouble, Xiao Lanyue would have had to argue with his wife over which one of them got to go speak to his teacher.
However, after Xiao Yu'an finished telling his story, it turned out it was the neighboring Ming Shu who needed to bring a parent to school.
Xiao Lanyue had seen Ming Shu following Xiao Yu'an around like a tail the last few times he visited his kids. It really warmed the heart and made him adore the kid. But he never imagined even the task of visiting Ming Shu's teacher would fall to him.
Xiao Yu'an had ushered Ming Shu back to his bedroom and sat with him for a while, eating the cherry cake from Xiao Jinlan. It was only after Ming Shu had gotten settled that Xiao Yu'an slipped back to the study to call his dad.
Ming Shu had to bring a parent or guardian to see his teacher. That much was nonnegotiable. But Ming Shu's parents couldn't come. Xiao Yu'an had just graduated from elementary school himself; he knew how these things worked. If Ming Shu went back to his homeroom teacher and said his parents couldn't come, there would be a world of trouble waiting for him in the future.
For one thing, his teacher wouldn't let it go so easily. She would definitely have a problem with the lack of a proper guardian in Ming Shu's life. And for another thing, the other students' bullying and cries of 'orphan' would only intensify.
If Xiao Yu'an had already been in high school, then he could have gone as Ming Shu's older brother to talk to the homeroom teacher.
But he was still too young to fill a role like that. Xiao Jinlan wouldn't work either. She didn't have the right attitude for it. After thinking about it, Xiao Yu'an had come to the decision that he could only call his own father.
Luckily, Xiao Lanyue happened to be in the area. He could free up some time to visit Ming Shu's school.
But at first, Xiao Lanyue wasn't willing to fill in for Ming Shu's parents. It wasn't that he didn't want to help, but Ming Shu was someone else's child. It wouldn't have been right for Xiao Lanyue to step into that role.
That was before Xiao Yu'an told him everything. After Xiao Yu'an told him about the bullying Ming Shu was experiencing at school, and about those two phone calls to Wen Yue and Ming Haofeng, Xiao Lanyue sighed deeply several times before he spoke again.
"What kind of dad is Ming Haofeng trying to be," he grumbled under his breath. Then, to Xiao Yu'an, he said, "Don't worry about this anymore. I'll take care of it."
Reassured, Xiao Yu'an hung up.
If his dad said he would take care of it, then his dad would take care of it. Xiao Lanyue had added that he would just have to call Ming Shu's father first. And Xiao Yu'an could only wait.
Before long, Ming Shu had finished his cake and his glass of milk. He tottered into the study to find Xiao Yu'an. The little thing had cried enough, and all the things he wanted to say had already been said. He didn't look as dispirited as he had a few minutes ago.
"Gege." Ming Shu flopped over Xiao Yu'an's legs. "Are you going to be my parent?"
Xiao Yu'an didn't answer that question directly, but he said, "I'll go see your homeroom teacher tomorrow."
A smile finally bloomed on Ming Shu's face. "Then you'll be my parent! Gege will be my parent!"
Xiao Yu'an was worried about hurting Ming Shu's feelings again, so he didn't protest. If he had to fill in for a parent, then he would fill in for a parent. Ming Shu already stuck to him every day. Even if Xiao Yu'an didn't want to be anyone's parental figure, it was a role he had no choice but to fill.
Finally, Xiao Lanyue called back and said he would go see Ming Shu's homeroom teacher tomorrow afternoon.
"Come pick me up first," Xiao Yu'an said. "I'll go with you."
Xiao Lanyue laughed. "Why would I take you? You're just a kid."
"I'm his gege," Xiao Yu'an said.
"My parent," Ming Shu corrected, his voice little more than a whisper.
Xiao Lanyue wasn't really opposed to it. He hadn't seen his son in a while anyway. It would be no trouble to pick Xiao Yu'an up first.
When Ming Shu got to school the next morning, Xiao Jincheng personally brought him to his classroom. Xiao Yu'an had only told Xiao Jincheng that Ming Shu was being bullied, and he'd only asked Xiao Jincheng to keep an eye out for Ming Shu. But with how much Xiao Jincheng loved to flaunt his authority, he naturally had to assert himself as one of Ming Shu's formidable guardians.
He swept his gaze across Ming Shu's classroom when they arrived. "My name is Xiao Jincheng. Class 3, Grade 4," he declared. "Ming Shu is my little brother. If any of you dare bully him again, I'll beat the stuffing out of you. And if you have a problem with me, you know where to find me!"
By the time Ming Shu sat down, he was blushing fiercely. On their way to school, Xiao Jincheng had already promised to give his classmates a good scare.
Xiao Jincheng had certainly followed through on that promise, but Ming Shu was now the center of attention. He felt bashful, and a little embarrassed.
The bullies who sat beside Ming Shu were covered in splotches of red and purple medicine. They scooted their desk back as far as they could; there was no way they were going to mess with Ming Shu again. Ming Shu didn't look back at those stinky bullies either.
"Are you okay?" Du Hao whispered, clearly worried out of his mind. "Did you get whooped last night?"
Ming Shu shook his head. "I ate cake."
Du Hao's eyes widened in shock. "I got whooped!"
Ming Shu wanted to laugh, but he held it back. He could tell who was on his side and who was against him. Du Hao had fought for him yesterday; he couldn't laugh at Du Hao's misfortune now.
"Then are your mom or dad coming today?" Du Hao asked. "It's not going to be your grandpa again, is it?"
Ming Shu wanted to say his gege's father would be coming, but before the words fell from his lips, he changed his mind. Smiling, he answered, "A parent is coming."
He sounded happy, and even a little proud, when he said that.
Du Hao thought about it all day. He just couldn't figure out why a kid would be proud of calling a parent in after getting in trouble. Wasn't Ming Shu supposed to be scared?
First-year middle school students only had two official classes in the afternoons, but they had plenty of other responsibilities to fill up their days. Xiao Yu'an was too worried about the meeting with Ming Shu's teacher to concentrate on anything else. He excused himself from all the practices and rehearsals he was supposed to attend, then left the building to wait for his dad.
When he climbed into Xiao Lanyue's car, he saw several big boxes in the back.
Those sorts of boxes were extremely familiar to Xiao Yu'an's eye. They were toy boxes, weren't they? But all the kids in their family were too old for those sorts of toys now.
"For your little didi." Xiao Lanyue smiled. "All the toys at your place are so old and worn by now. Better to give him some new ones to play with."
"You just bought them?" Xiao Yu'an asked.
"Your mom bought them a long time ago, but we kept forgetting to bring them over. I just happened to find them yesterday. They're all unopened."
Xiao Yu'an turned back to his dad. "Many thanks."
Xiao Lanyue laughed, then sighed. "This kid… is that the sort of thing you need to say to your dad? They're not for you, anyway."
Xiao Yu'an turned and gazed out the window, mumbling, "I wouldn't want them even if they were for me."
Students in the first grade had gotten out of class by now as well. Ming Shu ran to the school gates and craned his neck to look for his 'parent'. When he saw his gege step out of a car, he smiled so wide that his eyes became crescents.
Xiao Lanyue tousled Ming Shu's hair when he approached. "Our family's little didi has grown up."
"Hello, Uncle," Ming Shu said shyly.
Xiao Lanyue didn't let Ming Shu come with him when he went to visit Ming Shu's homeroom teacher. To Xiao Yu'an, coming back to this school was like visiting his alma mater. He was naturally very familiar with the area, so he took Ming Shu out to the shops in front of the school to buy him a bowl of freshly blended almond pudding.
Other kids stressed out, or even freaked out, when they had to invite their parents to school. But Ming Shu was perfectly content to eat bite after bite of his almond pudding. After he finished, he waited patiently until Xiao Lanyue returned.
"Get in the car," Xiao Yu'an urged, patting Ming Shu's shoulder. "There are gifts for you in there."
After Ming Shu was settled, Xiao Yu'an personally went back into the school building. Ming Shu's homeroom teacher was a little surprised to see Xiao Yu'an. Although she had never been Xiao Yu'an's teacher, she knew Xiao Yu'an had just graduated from their elementary school as the valedictorian of his year.
Just a few moments earlier, Xiao Lanyue had introduced himself to the homeroom teacher as Ming Shu's uncle. Since Ming Shu's parents seemed unable or unwilling to come, Ming Shu's homeroom teacher had decided an uncle was the next best thing. She explained Ming Shu's situation to Xiao Lanyue, and Xiao Lanyue promised he would have a serious talk with Ming Shu. But he also patiently urged the teacher to keep a closer eye on the unruly students in her class; his tone was kind, but firm.
The homeroom teacher liked Ming Shu. Now that a parental figure had shown up, she was immensely relieved. She didn't expect to see Xiao Yu'an right after her conversation with Xiao Lanyue.
Xiao Yu'an certainly wasn't ready to be anything like a parental figure, but Ming Shu had been calling him 'gege' for more than a year now. Xiao Yu'an felt it was his responsibility to protect Ming Shu. They couldn't count on Ming Shu's parents to be there for him. It was a good thing Xiao Yu'an's own father had been able to come this time, but his dad might not always be available if anything happened in the future. And if his dad couldn't be there as Ming Shu's uncle, then Xiao Yu'an would have to fill that role as Ming Shu's gege.
Xiao Yu'an chatted with Ming Shu's homeroom teacher for a quarter of an hour. In the end, he made one thing clear—
"I'm Ming Shu's gege. If you need to speak to his parent or guardian in the future, please contact me."