MINT-STAINED SHIRT

Chapter 42

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But Xiao Lanyue had been wrong about the Ming family's circumstances. Rather, he'd predicted what could happen, but due to the reservations and apprehensions that came with age, he didn't want Xiao Yu'an to interfere any further. He had, in the end, given Xiao Yu'an an answer that he felt was appropriate for a boy Xiao Yu'an's age.

After Xiao Lanyue left, Xiao Yu'an thought about all these things on his own for a long while. He truly had no good way of interfering in the Ming family's affairs, and he didn't know what had actually happened between Ming Shu and the Wen family. He truly didn't believe Ming Shu could have hurt Wen Yue without a reason, but those woes and grievances between a parent and child could only be resolved between a parent and child.

Xiao Yu'an could be Ming Shu's gege, and he could protect Ming Shu as much as possible. But he couldn't replace the love and affection Ming Shu was supposed to receive from his parents.

It seemed Ming Haofeng intended to stay at the house for a while. If Ming Shu could experience affection from a parent during that time—even if it was just a little, even if there was more tension and friction than affection—then that would be a good thing.

But deciding to remain a bystander for the time being left Xiao Yu'an feeling extremely low. A heavy, gloomy weight bore down on him, dragging him down more and more each day.

And somewhere, from far away, he could swear he still heard someone shouting for their gege.

He was powerless. That's right, powerless. Xiao Yu'an stared down at his own two hands. Powerlessness was a foreign feeling to him. He'd never felt this way before.

The feeling was like a dull knife, trying to sink into his flesh. It was a knife that was incapable of breaking skin, but even knowing that, he still felt its presence. Its presence was so strong that it elicited a deep, roiling feeling of nausea within him.

All his attempts to think rationally and optimistically were just attempts to hide from this feeling of powerlessness.

He'd let Ming Shu down. Not because of Xiao Lanyue's words, and not because it had been the rational thing to do. At the end of the day, it was simply because Xiao Yu'an had no right to stand in his life.

He had no right to interrogate the Ming family about the relationship between Ming Shu, Ming Haofeng, and Wen Yue.

Inevitably, that knowledge left him feeling weak and discouraged.

He stared out the window for a long time. When he came back to his senses, he realized was staring at a barren tree. Perhaps a few sprouts had already started growing on the branches, but the buds of green were still so small that they were swallowed up by the brown of the bark.

That was the tree from which he'd once saved Ming Shu. Years ago, it hadn't been a very sturdy or healthy tree. But now, every summer, it flourished.

Xiao Yu'an turned around and tightly balled up his hands.

 

After he was thrown into his room last night, Ming Shu didn't utter a sound. He had no strong feelings for this house where he'd been born and raised.

People often said children were easy to comfort. But they neglected one thing. Children were also very good at holding grudges.

Ming Shu didn't remember when it started, but he no longer yearned for his mother's embrace or the sight of his father's strong, sturdy shoulders. When he thought of these two people, he only felt a sense of cold.

He thought he'd been very well-behaved. When the dagger was lost, he didn't bring it up right away. He waited until all the funeral proceedings were over before he approached Wen Yue to ask what had happened.

Wen Yue was the one who'd gone crazy and put all the blame on him.

Whenever he closed his eyes, Ming Shu could recall the woman's hysterics.

And every time he recalled that sight, he felt nothing but disgust.

Yesterday, Ming Haofeng had pushed and dragged him all the way up to the second floor, ultimately shoving him into his room. Ming Shu thought of only one thing:

How tall will I have to grow, to defeat him?

He passed the night half-asleep, half-awake. He remained dispirited throughout the day as well, because he knew his gege was still visiting his other grandpa by the sea. There was no reason to lift his spirits.

But then he heard his gege, right downstairs. And it sounded like his gege was arguing with Ming Haofeng.

In that moment, Ming Shu felt like his heart was splitting open and letting out a flood of light. His gege was right outside. If he could just open the door, he could see his gege.

But the door was locked up tight. So Ming Shu had no choice but to start banging on it, shouting for his gege.

He knew his gege would hear him, so he pounded even harder. With his strength, he couldn't break down the door, but that didn't matter. His gege would come. His gege was as tall as Ming Haofeng, so his gege would definitely come and rescue him.

But before long, everything went quiet downstairs.

Ming Shu couldn't believe that his gege left of his own accord, and he also couldn't believe that his gege would lose against Ming Haofeng.

While Xiao Yu'an was already at an age where he understood the ways of the world, Ming Shu was still a child who was naive and single-minded in many regards.

The door opened. When Ming Shu saw Ming Haofeng standing on the other side, he took a step back. After not eating for a day, and after expending so much energy pounding on the door, Ming Shu wobbled and lost his balance. He fell straight to the floor.

"Just look at yourself! What do you think you're doing?" Ming Haofeng demanded angrily. "Pounding on the door, screaming your head off. The Ming family didn't raise a son like this!"

Ming Shu was dizzy, but not because he was afraid. It was most likely due to low blood sugar, as well as the shock of his gege not coming upstairs.

His breathing was growing quicker, and his face had gone pale. "When did you ever raise me?"

A deep valley of fury appeared between Ming Haofeng's tightly furrowed brows. "You think you can talk back to me?!"

Ming Shu remained surprisingly calm. "Grandfather's way of raising me is to prohibit me from doing anything I want. You and Mom… you and Wen Yue raise me by coming to see me once a year."

"You're out of line!" Ming Haofeng grabbed Ming Shu by the collar and hauled him up off the floor. "I told you to sit in here and think about what you did wrong, yet you've only thought about how we've wronged you?"

"So you know you've wronged me," Ming Shu said.

The veins along Ming Haofeng's arm bulged out. Before coming back to take Ming Shu to the Wen family, he'd never imagined Ming Shu could have grown up to have this kind of temperament.

It was true that he'd never taught Ming Shu anything, and he'd never even tried to communicate with Ming Shu. He felt, suddenly, at a loss.

Ming Shu thought he would be hit, but the hand in his collar gradually lightened its hold. In the end, Ming Shu was only fiercely shoved away. His frail back hit the wall, causing him to grit his teeth in pain.

Even that show of pain was something shameful in Ming Haofeng's eyes. "You think about it some more," he snapped coldly. "Think about what you've done wrong. If you can't figure it out, then you can just stay right here."

When the door was about to close again, Ming Shu suddenly shouted, "Hey!"

Ming Haofeng turned with displeasure written all over his cold, stern face.

"Gege…" Ming Shu felt an uneasiness in his chest, like all his organs were flipping over and rearranging themselves. "Gege left?"

"You became this way because of Xiao Yu'an!" Ming Haofeng snarled. "He knows what he did wrong, yet you're still being stubborn with me!"

That thunderous voice roared through Ming Shu's ears. He instinctively flinched and shut his eyes. By the time he opened them again, the door had been slammed shut.

Ming Shu stared at the door that had been locked once more. For a while, his mind was totally blank.

His gege knew what he'd done wrong?

What had his gege done wrong?

His gege hadn't done anything wrong…

After thinking for a long while, Ming Shu wondered… did his gege not come to see him because he thought he'd done something wrong?

Standing in front of a stranger's grave while wearing mourning clothes. Being slapped by Wen Yue. Being locked up by Wen Haofeng. None of these things scared Ming Shu.

But now, he suddenly started to tremble.

He wasn't cold. Just scared. And that feeling of fear was what sent a chill through him, crawling up from the soles of his feet and inching towards his heart.

He had never been this scared before.

If his gege had admitted to doing something wrong, and if his gege had left of his own accord, did that mean his gege didn't want him anymore?

He'd never thought he would be left behind by his gege. All this time, he had been running as fast as he could to catch up to his gege. He wanted to grow up to be just like his gege. How could his gege have admitted to any wrong?

As night fell, Ming Shu curled up in one corner of his room and started to whimper.

He didn't know if he was crying or if his childhood habit was coming back to haunt him.

Gege had said it was okay for him to cry when he was sad.

Gege had also told him to stop whimpering to himself. Even if he didn't make those noises, he wouldn't ever be alone.

In the end, with a quiet sob, Ming Shu listened to his gege's words and started to cry.

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Chapter 42

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