MINT-STAINED SHIRT

Chapter 33

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Ming Shu thought his gege hadn't noticed him fussing with the bag of drinks. He took the plates his gege brought him and started to eat.

He'd burned a lot of energy during his fight that day. The bread he'd bought could have filled up his stomach, but only real food—meat, vegetables—could have satisfied his hunger.

As Xiao Yu'an watched this little thing scarf down his food like a feral wolf, he had just one thought. The cute little baobei, loved by one and all, had finally turned into a proper little rebel. Xiao Jincheng had a real successor now.

When Ming Shu first started following Xiao Yu'an around and calling him 'gege', Ming Shu had only been five. The five-year-old Ming Shu was sweet and well-behaved, soft and delicate, and mild-mannered. His only problem was that he often mumbled and whimpered to himself, but Xiao Yu'an had corrected that pretty quickly.

Now, in the blink of an eye, that kid had become a fifth grader. And he'd become known as a fierce one at that. The kids at his school all called him Ming-ge or something, and he made trouble for Xiao Yu'an every few days.

The entire Xiao family used to find Xiao Jincheng annoying, and they all used to praise Ming Shu for being so well-behaved. Now, for some unknown reason, Xiao Jincheng had changed. He must have met someone he idolized after entering junior high, because now he always groomed himself properly—with hair gel and all—before leaving the house. Ming Shu, on the other hand, had become a bit of a troublemaker.

If Ming Shu hadn't blurted it out a while ago, Xiao Yu'an wouldn't have known that Xiao Jincheng had formally passed down his title as the school's king to Ming Shu. The two of them had even conducted a proper ceremony out in the playground.

The little sprout Xiao Yu'an had once brought home really had been led astray by Xiao Jincheng.

Take eating, for example. The Ming family was extremely strict, and they prohibited Ming Shu from talking during meals. When Ming Shu first started eating with Xiao Yu'an, he had always eaten without making a peep. He silently chewed each bite slowly and thoroughly before moving on to the next. If Xiao Yu'an didn't snatch some food for him, everything good would have been quickly be gobbled up by Xiao Jincheng.

Now, Ming Shu ate without any reservations.

Ming Shu even had an excuse for his huge appetite. He said that his body was growing, and that his growing body cried out for food. His excuses were endless these days.

When Ming Shu swallowed a bite too quickly and almost choked, Xiao Yu'an came back to his senses and asked, "Do you want a bowl of soup?"

Ming Shu shook his head right away. He felt around in the bag of drinks for a while before producing a bottle of Coke.

"How many times have I told you?" Xiao Yu'an chided. "You need to drink less of that stuff."

Ming Shu chugged down several mouthfuls before his throat felt a little soothed. "Ge, you don't want one?"

As he spoke, Ming Shu glanced at the two bottles he'd set on the table. They weren't Coke, but they were also sweetened drinks that cost around three yuan each. They weren't any worse than what Ming Shu had brought.

"You'll drink the ones other people give you," Ming Shu muttered. His heart was feeling heavy again. He just didn't like the idea of other people giving his ge something to drink. Earlier, he hadn't found a good opportunity to bring it up, but now he latched onto the subject of drinks and rudely held up two fingers. "You even took two bottles!"

"Go ahead and try twisting the caps," Xiao Yu'an said. "See for yourself if I drank from them."

"Even if you didn't drink, you still took them from someone else," Ming Shu grumbled under his breath.

This kid hadn't just grown a little mischievous. He'd become so finicky as well. How could Xiao Yu'an not understand Ming Shu? He jerked his chin at the two bottles and said, "Then you take them."

As if Ming Shu wanted those drinks. He ignored Xiao Yu'an and threw back his head to guzzle down some more Coke.

Xiao Yu'an hadn't noticed it earlier, but he suddenly caught sight of a red mark on Ming Shu's neck.

Ming Shu had just finished chugging his soda with his head tilted back. But when he finished, he found he couldn't tilt his head back down. His ge had grabbed hold of his chin and was now holding his head in place.

Ming Shu practically jumped out of his skin. "Ge, what are you doing?"

"What happened here?" Xiao Yu'an asked, even though he didn't need to ask. There could only be one answer. Ming Shu had obviously gotten himself scratched in a fight.

Xiao Yu'an had started teaching Ming Shu to fight when Ming Shu was still in first grade. Xiao Mu'ting and Xiao Jincheng had also taught him some moves, because Ming Shu had just been bullied back then. Ming Shu was so small. His arms and legs were skinny, and he looked delicate too. He had to learn how to defend himself to keep kids from bullying him again.

But Ming Shu was too good at learning, and the three of them were too good at teaching. They'd accidentally taught him so well that Ming Shu turned into Ming-ge.

Now, Ming Shu had gotten into way more than one or two fights. But it was a good thing he never bullied those who were weaker than him. He only fought back against bullies with his just and chivalrous heart. He'd never lost a fight, but getting a few scrapes here and there was to be expected.

"Ah!" Ming Shu exclaimed. He hadn't even realized his neck was hurt until now. But after Xiao Yu'an drew attention to it, he felt a numb pain spreading out from the scratch on his throat.

"Finish your food by yourself," Xiao Yu'an said, getting up to leave. "Later, tell me exactly who you fought with this time."

"Ai, ge!" Ming Shu hurriedly reached out and grabbed hold of Xiao Yu'an's wrist, refusing to let go.

Other high school boys loved wearing soft tennis wristbands. Orange ones, white ones, yellow ones. The sort that all little elementary school kids thought were cool. But Ming Shu's gege never wore them. He either wore a watch on his wrist, or he didn't wear anything at all. When Ming Shu reached out, he could feel the hard, jutting bones of Xiao Yu'an's wrist.

Whenever Ming Shu wrapped his fingers around his gege's wrist, he felt safer. Steadier.

"Where are you going? Wait for me, I'll be done in a sec!"

Xiao Yu'an didn't free himself from Ming Shu's grasp. Ming Shu was too familiar with grabbing his wrist, and Xiao Yu'an was too familiar with being grabbed. Ming Shu had been clingy ever since he was a kid, and he was never comfortable when he wasn't sticking to Xiao Yu'an. The only difference was that his hand used to be so small, and his fingers had been short and chubby. Now, Ming Shu was at least starting to turn into a proper little adolescent.

"Just eat on your own," Xiao Yu'an said. "I'm going to buy some rubbing alcohol for you."

Ming Shu still refused to let go. "We can go together. Ge, wait for me. Just give me a minute."

It wasn't a big deal or anything, so Xiao Yu'an sat back down. But he did have to scold Ming Shu a little. "You're already in fifth grade. You're still this clingy?"

Ming Shu was afraid his gege would really leave if he didn't hurry, so he scarfed down his food as quickly as possible and only protested in his heart: I'm not clingy.

His gege was always telling him that he was clingy, and that boys couldn't be that clingy once they grew up. But it wasn't like Ming Shu clung to anyone and everyone he met. He only liked sticking close to his gege. What was wrong with that?

This was his very own gege. Why shouldn't he be allowed to cling?

As soon as Ming Shu finished eating, Xiao Yu'an checked the time. They went to buy the rubbing alcohol, and Xiao Yu'an helped Ming Shu disinfect his wound out on the steps in front of the cafeteria.

A moment ago, Ming Shu had proudly bragged about taking care of an awful bully who picked on the weak. Now, while Xiao Yu'an treated his wound, he teared up from the pain.

"Be careful next time. You can't let people hit you here," Xiao Yu'an said. He capped the leftover rubbing alcohol and placed the bottle in the bag with Ming Shu's drinks. Then he helped himself to a bottle of mineral water from that bag and patted Ming Shu on the shoulder. "Go back to school."

Ming Shu instantly puffed up his chest in protest. That just wouldn't do. He'd come to watch his gege's basketball game today!

"Go to class," Xiao Yu'an insisted. "You're only in fifth grade and you already want to skip school?"

Ming Shu stood his ground and refused to move. "You just said I'm already in fifth grade!"

He placed a strong emphasis on 'already'.

Xiao Yu'an fell silent.

Ming Shu latched onto him again. "Gege, I only have gym in the afternoon. Just let me stay and watch, okay?"

Xiao Yu'an thought about it for a moment. Physical education really was the only class on Friday afternoons. But he couldn't allow Ming Shu to set this precedent of skipping class to watch a basketball game. No matter what, he had to make Ming Shu go back.

Ming Shu did end up shuffling to the side, clutching the bag of drinks. He'd bought so many things for his gege, but his gege only took one bottle. And his gege had even put two bottles of someone else's drinks in there.

Xiao Yu'an really wanted to smile when he saw that sullen look on Ming Shu's face, but this kid had already been thoroughly spoiled by the entire Xiao family. Xiao Yu'an definitely couldn't let him develop a habit of skipping class. He raised his voice a little and barked, "Go!"

Ming Shu had no choice. He finally called back his acknowledgement and started to make his way to the school gates. He practically looked back over his shoulder three times for every one step he took.

Xiao Yu'an didn't have time to personally walk Ming Shu back to school, so he just shouted for him to hurry up. When Ming Shu finally upped his speed from that of a snail to that of a turtle, Xiao Yu'an sighed and turned to make his way to the basketball courts.

Ming Shu had already made it all the way to First High. Obviously there was no way he would actually go back now. As soon as he saw that his gege was no longer watching him, he took the long way around the school and crept over to the basketball courts before the match began.

Afraid of being discovered, Ming Shu didn't dare get too close to the front. He stuck to the back of the crowd and watched from there.

The game was exciting, and the crowd broke out in ear-splitting cheers every time a point was scored. Ming Shu wanted to cheer too, but he had to keep his silence. If his ge heard him, he would definitely be punished.

Ming Shu had planned on focusing on the game, and he did. His gaze stayed on his gege the whole time, until he suddenly caught a glimpse of Tong Yu in the crowd. At that, his chest tightened again.

He could at least guess what Tong Yu had wanted with his gege at lunch.

Xiao Jincheng had developed a one-sided crush on his ponytailed deskmate. His parents had even been called to school because of it. Xiao Jincheng was a second-year in junior high, and Ming Shu's gege was already a second-year in high school. It was possible that Xiao Yu'an would fall in love too.

Ming Shu was upset. He felt like that just wasn't right. His gege had just scolded him over skipping class. How could his gege get into a relationship at his young age?

If people needed to be scolded for skipping class, didn't they need to be scolded for schoolyard romances as well?

Xiao Yu'an led his class to win the championship. Their homeroom teacher, who also happened to be their physics teacher, got so excited that he knocked his own glasses off.

First High's basketball team had always been strong, but the team formed by the honors students was no good. Those were all bookworms, after all. It was considered impressive if they didn't lose in the first round of their school tournaments. This was the first time an honors class had taken the championship title.

Xiao Yu'an was pretty happy too. He finished the bottle of water he'd taken from Ming Shu, and when Cheng Yue suggested going out to celebrate that night, he agreed.

Then he got a call from Ming Shu's homeroom teacher.

"Your didi got into a big fight today, and he's gotten his classmates involved in skipping class as well. As his gege, you'll have to come in to deal with this."

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