MINT-STAINED SHIRT

Chapter 46

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Seeing his gege for a short while didn't make Ming Shu feel better at all. When Ming Haofeng came and forcibly dragged him away, Ming Shu desperately hoped his gege would pull him back. Even if his gege pulled at him like he was the rope in a game of tug of war, he wouldn't have been scared of being hurt.

What scared him more than anything was his gege not wanting to pull him back at all.

Despite Ming Shu's hopes, his gege only followed them downstairs, watching him. He didn't reach out for Ming Shu.

Ming Shu was shoved into a car again, just like the last time his parents had taken him away, before he could visit the sea with his gege.

When the car started to move, Ming Shu saw his gege standing at the curb, frowning. A darkly tinted window separated them. Ming Shu didn't know if his gege could see him.

The guests at the Ming family's house had left, but—much to Ming Shu's surprise—Wen Yue had appeared. That night, Ming Shu was locked in his room again. Downstairs, in the living room, his parents and his grandfather seemed to be discussing something.

A lock had been installed on his window. Now, only the smaller window near the ceiling, which was just a sliver of a hatch, could be opened. Even if Ming Shu had been five years younger, he wouldn't have been able to squeeze out through that crack.

Later that night, a wave of footsteps rippled through the house. The house fell silent after that, and the light trickling in from under Ming Shu's door disappeared.

Ming Shu lay in bed, slowly replaying the events of that afternoon in his mind. The clearest, sharpest memory was the sound of Xia Zhong calling out 'ge'.

When he fell asleep, he plummeted into a nightmare.

It was strange. Although he hadn't had a good day in a very, very long time, he never dreamt after falling asleep. If he did dream, he dreamt of nothing in particular. But that night, he dreamt that his gege and Xia Zhong were dating. His gege took away his membership card for the coffee shop by First High, and his gege took Xia Zhong there instead, ordering him every cake on the menu.

In the dream, Ming Shu was already in tears when he took back the membership card. But the remaining funds on the card weren't even enough to buy the cheapest black coffee.

And all the while, Xia Zhong called out 'gege, gege'. Right in front of Ming Shu.

Ming Shu wanted to call out for his gege too, but found that no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't make a single sound.

When he looked at his gege, it was like his gege couldn't see him at all.

His gege stood right next to Xia Zhong, and Xia Zhong could see Ming Shu. But Ming Shu's gege couldn't. Then, Xia Zhong and Xiao Yu'an turned and started walking away. Ming Shu chased after them until he was panting for breath, but he couldn't catch up. He couldn't get any closer. And he couldn't make a sound.

Xia Zhong turned and waved at him.

Ming Shu instantly understood what that meant.

You don't have a gege anymore.

When he woke, Ming Shu was drenched in sweat. His nightclothes were damp.

 

Wen Yue had visited with a purpose in mind. She wanted to talk to Ming Haofeng about something. About taking Ming Shu away, to personally raise him for a while.

She and Ming Haofeng had been forced into their marriage by their respective families, for business reasons. They'd openly hated each other and took out their anger on Ming Shu by neglecting him at the very start of his life, in those early years when he most yearned for the love of his parents.

These past eleven years were not unlike torture for them.

The anger that had carried her through her twenties had now dimmed in Wen Yue's heart. Last year, she'd already considered taking Ming Shu and having him live with her. But considering the events that had transpired at her father's funeral, she began to feel like Ming Shu was a stranger. Their conflict even made her fear him.

She didn't like Ming Shu. This child was the living proof of the compromises and sacrifices she'd made in life. But she was still a mother. When the symptoms of her illness subsided, she calmed down and realized she didn't want Ming Shu to grow up and see her as a stranger one day.

She only had one child.

And she was no longer as averse to Ming Haofeng as she had been when they'd first married. Whether it had been against her will or not, Wen Yue was bound to this man. He had, inevitably, become someone she relied on in times of stress, like the disaster of her father's funeral.

For the first time, she sat calmly in the Ming family's home and voiced her own thoughts and ideas, getting a sense of how the men of the Ming family felt about her proposal.

Ming Haofeng was at the end of his rope with Ming Shu, so Wen Yue's suggestion came at a good time.

Throughout the years, what they had talked about more than anything else was divorce. They'd flung all manner of hateful words at each other. But now, because they shared a son, they came together and forged an alliance.

They were confident that they'd crafted a good plan, but they neglected to consider the consequences of time. Had they arrived at this decision a few years earlier, perhaps when Ming Shu was just starting elementary school, they might have been able to make up for the first years of Ming Shu's life.

But by now, it was too late.

The last thing Ming Shu needed was his parents' concern. He had no use for their lackluster, self-righteous 'love'.

Early in the morning, Wen Yue came upstairs and knocked on Ming Shu's door.

After waking from his nightmare, Ming Shu hadn't managed to fall asleep again. When he saw her face, he clearly remembered the way she'd lost her mind in front of him.

"You're awake?" Wen Yue asked. She was putting on a shoddy act of being a warm and gentle mother, but her smile was stiff and cold.

She was extremely pretty, but there was nothing beautiful about the smile she wore now. Her expression made her face look unnatural, like her excellent features had all been carefully selected and manufactured into a perfect face.

"Hurry and wash up," she urged. "Mama has made you some congee, and even some hamburgers."

When Ming Shu sat down at the breakfast table, he looked at the lavish spread in front of him and remained unmoved. He was indifferent to the food laid out before him; he was even a little repulsed.

Besides the congee, all the food that had been prepared were Western-style dishes. Ming Shu had seen lots of people eating Western food at the coffee shop last night, and the sight of these dishes instantly made him think of Xia Zhong.

Although she had made up her mind to work on her relationship with Ming Shu, Wen Yue's old habits couldn't be corrected so easily. As she watched Ming Shu stare at his plate without much emotion or interest, she felt her anger and irritation swell up again. She couldn't help but think of the unsavory choices she'd been forced to make in life.

Her voice had become cold again when she said, "Eat."

Ming Shu glanced at her, then started to eat. But he only took the congee; he didn't take a single bite of the hamburger.

He didn't know why Wen Yue had come, and he had no idea what his parents were conspiring. He didn't know anything about their plans to move him away and make him transfer to a new school. He hadn't given any of that any thought at all. His nightmare still haunted him.

After breakfast, he asked Ming Haofeng, "How did you find me?"

"The boy from the Xia family told me where you were," Ming Haofeng said.

Ming Shu clenched his jaw and lowered his head. His lashes obscured the dark look that flashed through his eyes.

From that day on, things changed. Ming Haofeng no longer kept Ming Shu locked in his room, but he didn't allow him to go to the Xiao family's house. Ming Shu was forbidden from even talking about the Xiao family, like the mere mention of them was some sort of evil curse.

Wen Yue took him to the mall and picked out several new outfits for him. She even took him to a fancy restaurant to eat, where she asked him if he was happy.

Ming Shu didn't know what he was supposed to be happy about.

He'd already been to all the nice malls and restaurants in the city. Every time his gege's mother came to visit, she would take Ming Shu and the other kids out on the town. Those times, Ming Shu got to wander around while holding his gege's hand. That was when he was truly happy.

Wen Yue had always thought all children were easy to please. She'd put in so much effort over the past few days, and she'd thought she would see some results by now. But Ming Shu had yet to give her a single smile.

She wasn't really a loving mother by nature. After a few days, she felt physically and mentally exhausted.

That was when Ming Shu slipped out of the house, by himself.

 

The doors to the Xiao family's house were all tightly locked; they were probably out visiting relatives. Ming Shu hopped on a bicycle and rode out of their residential community, biking aimlessly with no destination in mind.

After taking a certain corner, he reached a gently sloping path. He didn't plan on biking downhill at first, but he just so happened to see Xia Zhong at the bottom of the slope.

His nightmare, the coffee shop, Xia Zhong calling out 'ge', and Xia Zhong snitching to Ming Shu's father…

Each of these tiny little details cut through his heart like shrapnel, slicing open something buried deep within him. Hatred and malice began to trickle out, slowly staining and covering his sense of reason.

Ming Shu wasn't as saintly as everyone believed. All the suffering he'd endured in his childhood, all the times he'd been wronged—he remembered it all. Someone had kept him wrapped up in warmth and affection until then. Over the years, he and his suffering had been cocooned in cotton candy.

Because of that cocoon, he'd never sought revenger He'd never hurt anyone.

But now, that cocoon had been ripped apart.

The scene before Ming Shu began to rock and sway, dizzying him. His eyes were blank and almost lifeless, but they were fixed on Xia Zhong at the bottom of the slope. By the time Ming Shu came back to his senses and realized what he was doing, his bicycle was already barreling down that hill.

When Xia Zhong saw the bike plowing straight towards him, he froze with shock and terror. He couldn't react at all. He didn't even realize, until too late, that the person on the bike was Ming Shu, and that Ming Shu was out for revenge.

On a flat road, a bicycle wouldn't necessarily be able to do much harm to a person. Especially since this was a child's bike.

But a bicycle swooping down a hill was enough to kill a teenager.

By the time Ming Shu realized he couldn't do that, it was too late to stop the bike. And Xia Zhong was still standing there, scared stiff.

At the very last second, Ming Shu swung the bike to the side as hard as he could. He flew out of the saddle and slammed his head into a railing along the road. And the bike, inevitably, still hurt Xia Zhong.

Ming Shu fought against the dizzying waves of intense pain that rolled through him. He looked over and saw that Xia Zhong had been pinned under the bicycle. The tires still spun slowly, and blood was seeping out from the back of Xia Zhong's hand.

 

The stifling scent of disinfectant permeated the hospital walls. Ming Shu hadn't been there in a long time. He didn't often get sick. The last time he'd had to visit the hospital was years ago, with Xiao Jincheng, after eating too much spicy food and upsetting his stomach.

The Ming family and the Xia family were both present. Ming Shu was dragged from room to room. He had to have several x-rays taken, and he even had to get some stitches in his head.

When the doctor asked him how he felt, his reaction time was slow. It was only after a moment that he managed to shake his head.

He wanted to tell the doctor that his head hurt, that he felt dizzy, that he felt like he was about to explode, that he wanted to throw up. He wanted to say that his back and his ribs on the right side ached, and that it even hurt to breathe.

But he couldn't say anything.

These pains hadn't been inflicted upon him by others. He only had himself to blame.

He had no right to say he was hurt, because Xia Zhong, who had been hurt by him, was still lying in a hospital bed.

The hospital was well-heated, but Ming Shu hadn't stopped shivering ever since he arrived. He was too scared. When he saw blood on Xia Zhong's hand, he'd thought Xia Zhong was dying.

In that moment, the pain in his head and body had practically evaporated. All he could think about, all he could worry about, was that he'd killed Xia Zhong.

Wen Yue had never imagined Ming Shu would hit someone with his bicycle. When she and Ming Haofeng rushed to the hospital, both burning with anxiety, they were met by fierce questions and accusations from Xia Zhong's parents.

Xia Zhong's skin was as pale as a sheet of paper. Blood was seeping through the bandages wrapped around his hand. When he saw Wen Yue and Ming Haofeng, he felt helpless and wronged. His voice was choked with emotion when he started to speak.

"I was at the bottom of the slope," he said. "Ming Shu rode his bike at me. I don't know… it wasn't that he'd lost control of the bike. He was aiming for me. He didn't try to slow down. It's good… it's a good thing the slope wasn't too steep. I…"

Before he could finish, he broke down and cried.

Xia Zhong's father was furious. He bellowed, "Look at the kind of son you raised! What was he trying to do? Why did he try to hurt Little Zhong?!"

Ming Haofeng had never experienced such intense shame. His own rage was  burning inside him, but he could only apologize on Ming Shu's behalf. Afterwards, he stepped out onto the balcony and smoked cigarette after cigarette.

Wen Yue stared at Ming Shu for a while, then turned and walked away.

They both thought only of the shame and disgrace Ming Shu's actions caused them. Neither of them spared a thought for the fact that Ming Shu was also injured, or that Ming Shu might also need someone to care about him.

Ming Han was the one who sat by Ming Shu.

The old man gazed at Ming Shu, who still seemed to be in a stupor. With pain and disappointment in his eyes, Ming Han said, "Xia Zhong is saying you intentionally hit him. Is that true?"

Ming Shu opened his mouth, but nothing came out.

What was he supposed to say?

It was true that he'd intended to hit Xia Zhong, even though he'd tried to swerve away at the last minute. Even though his own wounds were far more severe than Xia Zhong's.

Perhaps due to age, Ming Han had become a more patient man. He reached out and took Ming Shu's arm, asking once more, "Did you hit him on purpose?"

Xiao Yu'an had rushed over after receiving the news. When he arrived at the door to Ming Shu's hospital room, that was the first thing he heard.

"Yes," Ming Shu said. "I hit him on purpose."

"Why?"

"Because… because I hate him."

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