"He wasn't like this when he was little!" Wen Yue declared. Her voice was gradually becoming shrill. "You people have changed him into… into… he has no manners now, and he even used his bicycle to hit someone. And no matter how I talk to him, he won't respond to me!"
Xiao Yu'an's gaze was cold.
Ming Shu definitely didn't lack manners. Not a single one of Ming Shu's teachers would say that about him.
This woman was hysterically flinging out accusations about a person Xiao Yu'an had never met.
Wen Yue pressed a hand to her chest. "What did you come to the hospital for? What right do you have to be here? He hit someone with his bicycle, that's something we'll apologize for. We'll be the ones to take care of it. That's our headache.
"So please leave him alone. I know what boys his age are like. When he sees people who know how to fight and play, he'll naturally want to consider them his gege. But that isn't right!"
Xiao Jincheng couldn't listen to any more of this. "What do you mean 'consider'? Ming Shu had a parent-teacher conference in first grade, and you guys weren't there for him. He was bullied because of that. I haven't settled that score with you yet! I am his gege!"
Hearing that, Wen Yue grew increasingly worked up. She shook her head and declared, "Ming Shu absolutely cannot stay with you people any longer!"
Xiao Yu'an heard the true meaning behind those words. "You want to take him away?"
"Yes!" Wen Yue exclaimed. "I regret not taking him away sooner! Just leave now, all of you. If you come looking for him again, I'll have no choice but to take him away for his own good!"
Outside the hospital, Xiao Jincheng fumed. "No way, right? That crazy bitch wants to take Ming Shu away? Where is she going to take him? They don't care about Ming Shu at all, do they?"
Xiao Yu'an and Xiao Mu'ting said nothing. They crossed the street with heavy hearts.
"Say something!" Xiao Jincheng pleaded, tugging on Xiao Mu'ting's clothes.
Xiao Mu'ting subconsciously looked over at Xiao Yu'an, and Xiao Jincheng followed his gaze as well.
They both considered Ming Shu their little brother, but everyone knew Xiao Yu'an and Ming Shu were closest to each other. Xiao Yu'an had been the one who brought Ming Shu home that first time. He was practically Ming Shu's guardian.
"What do you think?" Xiao Mu'ting asked.
Xiao Yu'an's thoughts were a jumbled mess. Wen Yue seemed to be serious about taking Ming Shu away. But where could they possibly take him?
If Ming Shu's parents did want to take him away, then Xiao Yu'an and his cousins were only outsiders. They had no right to protest. With Xiao Lanyue gone, they didn't even have anyone who could negotiate with the Ming family.
"Why don't we adopt Ming Shu? His parents are worthless, right?" Xiao Jincheng blurted out, letting his imagination run wild again. "We'll transfer his household registration to our family."
"What are you thinking?" Xiao Mu'ting shot back. "You know his parents are still alive, yeah?"
The three of them thought about it all the way home, but they couldn't come up with any solutions.
That night, Xiao Yu'an couldn't sleep. He'd realized there really wasn't a solution.
Before running into Wen Yue that day, he'd been in a pretty good mood. He'd finally gotten to see Ming Shu, and he had managed to soothe away some of the little kid's worries. When he left the hospital room, he was already thinking towards the future. He knew their problems weren't all over. Ming Shu felt better now, but underlying issues still remained.
Ming Shu had clearly been affected by his family and the atmosphere in his house. He didn't shine as brightly as he usually did. An invisible shroud of darkness lingered over him. It was a darkness that shouldn't have existed.
But since it did exist, Xiao Yu'an could only be vigilant about it in the future. Ming Shu was still young. They could gradually erase that darkness staining his life.
But Wen Yue's words made Xiao Yu'an realize that he might not get that chance at all.
If the Ming family was insistent on taking Ming Shu away, there would be nothing Xiao Yu'an could do.
The glow of the streetlights shone in through his window. Xiao Yu'an, disquieted, covered his eyes with his hands.
Ming Shu didn't know anything about the dispute that had arisen between Wen Yue and his gege after his gege left his hospital room.
He was genuinely happy, for the first time in a long time. After his gege left, he carefully folded up his gege's note and hid it away inside his clothes. Even when Wen Yue entered the room later, Ming Shu wasn't as contrarian as usual.
Wen Yue didn't say anything about what had happened with Xiao Yu'an. After speaking a few awkward words to Ming Shu, she asked if he wanted to go apologize to Xia Zhong.
If Wen Yue had asked that question a little earlier, Ming Shu would have refused. Not only that, he might have lost control of his emotions and thrown a tantrum as well. But now, his gege had cleared everything up. Now, Ming Shu didn't mind apologizing.
Xia Zhong liked his gege. So what? His gege didn't like Xia Zhong, and his gege wouldn't date. No one would steal his gege away from him.
"Okay," Ming Shu said. He even managed to laugh as he answered.
Wen Yue was clearly taken aback. She had to swallow down all the harsh lectures she'd prepared, in case Ming Shu resisted.
Xia Zhong wasn't hurt as badly as Ming Shu. While Ming Shu still had to stay at the hospital for a while longer, Xia Zhong was already set to be released. On the day Xia Zhong was to leave the hospital, Ming Shu was taken to his room by Ming Han, Ming Haofeng, and Wen Yue to offer their sincerest apologies.
Xia Zhong was standing next to his bed. He looked almost frail with his soft hair and slim build, like he didn't have a single ounce of fight in his body. When Ming Shu bowed deeply and apologized, Xia Zhong even reflexively took a step back.
"I did something wrong. I'm sorry," Ming Shu said, before straightening up. He wasn't bothered by having to apologize. He saw everything clearly now, so he could even apologize happily. "I won't do it again."
Both their parents were present. Xia Zhong quietly hummed a sound of acknowledgement.
That was the end of that. Xia Zhong was discharged and sent home to recuperate, while Ming Shu continued his own treatment at the hospital.
School had already started up again. Every day, Ming Shu asked Ming Han when he would be allowed to go back to school. Ming Han only ever said they had to listen to the doctor's advice.
Ming Shu didn't see his gege for another long while, but he didn't ask about that.
He knew Ming Haofeng didn't like his gege. Ming Haofeng must have been stopping his gege from coming to see him. But Ming Shu wasn't worried. He had a promise his gege had written out for him. Once he left the hospital, he would go find his gege himself. His elementary school wasn't all that far from First High. What reason did he have to worry about not seeing his gege?
But while Ming Shu was thinking about going back to school, plans for his transfer had already been finalized.
Before Ming Shu hit Xia Zhong with his bicycle, Wen Yue and Ming Haofeng had already been talking about taking Ming Shu away from the old Ming house. Now, they became even more convinced that they couldn't leave Ming Shu there any longer.
In their eyes, Ming Shu had been raised into a monster.
And monsters needed to be tamed.
Ming Shu counted down the days until, finally, he was discharged from the hospital.
"Do I go straight to school?" he asked from the backseat of the car. His eyes were bright, almost gleaming. "It's Thursday today. I have a lot of classes. I'll go to school right away."
"There's no rush," Ming Haofeng said. "You don't need to go to school today."
Of course, Ming Shu wanted to go. "But I've missed a lot of class already!"
"Once you have a suitable teacher, you'll catch up very quickly," Wen Yue said. "Rest when you get home. You stayed at the hospital for a long time. You must be tired."
Ming Shu got the faint sensation that something was wrong. But it wasn't until he saw his luggage at the house, already packed, that he realized what Ming Haofeng and Wen Yue had done.
"I won't go!" he shouted. "Where are you taking me? I don't want to go!"
Ming Haofeng stood in front of him, blocking his way. "The school transfer has already been put through. You can't not go. Everyone here knows about the crash, about what you did. Staying here won't do you any good!"
"I don't care, I won't go! I apologized!" Ming Shu protested, growing more and more anxious. "Grandpa! Grandpa!"
Ming Han turned his back. He didn't say a word.
"Ge!" Ming Shu slammed his hands against the car window as hard as he could once he was thrown into the back seat again. He shouted towards the Xiao family's house with all his might. "Gege! Gege!"
It was the middle of the school day. The second-year Physics Olympiad class was just about to take a test. While the papers were being passed around the classroom, Xiao Yu'an lifted his head and peered out the window for no discernible reason. He frowned.
"Pass it back!" The person who sat behind Xiao Yu'an called out to him a few times and even had to poke him with a pencil to get his attention.
Xiao Yu'an came back to his senses. He grabbed a test and passed the rest back.