MINT-STAINED SHIRT

Chapter 51

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"When will you let me go back to my grandfather's house?" Ming Shu asked.

It was the second term of sixth grade.

He'd transferred to Canxin Elementary over a year ago, and he hadn't seen his gege since. He was a model student who behaved well and got good grades. Even his homeroom teacher said he was practically a different person now. He fit in perfectly with his class.

And during his monthly visits home, he basically never fought with Wen Yue. Wen Yue had even once taken him to a formal dinner party.

Ming Shu had grown as well. He was a little taller than most boys his age. Dressed in the formalwear Wen Yue chose for him, he looked exceptionally handsome and refined.

He did everything Wen Yue asked without complaint. For New Year's, he visited the Wen family with her and didn't cause a scene. His behavior was worthy of praise.

Sometimes, Wen Yue wouldn't look at him with the guarded and defensive expression she used to wear. She seemed almost like a mother, even though her maternal qualities were still very faint.

In his early years, Ming Shu had yearned for Wen Yue's love and approval more than anything. But now that approval was worthless to him. He had grown up quickly after experiencing hardships that were foreign to other children his age. Now, he didn't want to waste his time struggling fruitlessly. He wanted to use Wen Yue's maternal feelings to get back to his gege's side as soon as possible.

Wen Yue had been caught off guard by that question from Ming Shu. The light hint of maternal affection in her eyes disappeared, replaced by coldness once more. "Why would you go back there? Can the schools there beat Canxin Elementary?"

"But I haven't been back for the past two holidays," Ming Shu said. "I miss my grandfather."

Wen Yue frowned. Her eyes scanned him like a piercing set of searchlights.

"Can I go back over summer break?" Ming Shu asked.

Ming Shu didn't actually need to hear Wen Yue's answer to that question. He was going to go back over summer break, no matter what. His gege would be graduating from high school that year, and his gege might go far away for college. His gege might never come back. If Ming Shu didn't go that summer, he didn't know when he would be able to see his gege again.

Wen Yue flashed a restrained smile. "Of course."

Ming Shu nodded, then went back to his room.

There was only a month left in the school year. Everyone was looking forward to graduation. The school provided all graduating sixth graders with a blank yearbook that they could decorate and pass around to receive messages from their classmates.

Ming Shu may have been a transfer student, but after spending more than a year with that class, he had become one of the most popular students. Many of his peers wanted him to sign their yearbooks, but he didn't let anyone sign his own book.

"I seriously envy you for getting to go study abroad," said the class monitor. He was a dark, round-faced boy who actually looked somewhat like the crows who'd bullied Ming Shu in first grade. As he waited for Ming Shu to leave a message in his yearbook, he continued, "Me? My grades are good, but I still have six long years ahead of me, then the college entrance exams. Ai, life isn't easy."

Ming Shu abruptly set down his pen. "What do you mean study abroad?"

"Oh, don't pretend you don't know! I helped our homeroom teacher copy all the information yesterday. I saw everything!" The class monitor gave Ming Shu a knowing look. "You're leaving the country soon. Your mom and our teacher talked about it already!"

Ming Shu didn't know anything about leaving the country. No one had ever told him anything about studying abroad. And, just a while ago, Wen Yue had even promised him that he could go see his grandfather over summer break.

"What's the matter with you?" The class monitor waved his hand in front of Ming Shu's face. "Why do you look even more surprised than me? It can't be that you didn't know, right?"

Ming Shu didn't look so good. He did his very best to contain his fear and apprehension.

"I knew," he said. He didn't want anyone else to realize what he was feeling, so he forced himself to smile. "But my family doesn't want too many people to know about this. Don't tell anyone, okay?"

The class monitor mimed zipping his lips. "Relax, relax. Hurry and write a good luck message for me. You should write, 'I hope you become a big and handsome ge in middle school' or something. Hahaha, why don't you look happier? Studying abroad is a good thing…"

In order to confirm the class monitor's words, Ming Shu snuck out during their lunch break and found their graduation paperwork in the homeroom teacher's office. Next to his name, the words 'expected to study abroad' were indeed neatly printed.

Ming Shu placed the paperwork back where it belonged. He shut the desk drawer, feeling surprisingly calm.

The warm sunlight of early summer spilled in through the windows and illuminated his back. An inexplicable, paradoxical sort of chemical reaction seemed to be taking place inside him. He felt warm in some invisible places, but his chest was cold enough to make him shiver.

At that time of day, the campus was extremely quiet. The teachers and other students were all taking their midday naps. Ming Shu heard his own heartbeat rumbling in his chest. His pulse thundered, like the beat of a drum. And each beat disrupted the water that had been gathering on the drum of his heart for over a year.

He had been holding back all this time, but he never imagined Wen Yue and Ming Haofeng could have already decided to send him overseas. And to everyone else, this was something that deserved to be celebrated. It meant he wouldn't have to take high school or college entrance exams.

But Ming Shu wouldn't accept it.

His gege had taken high school entrance exams and would soon take his college entrance exams as well.

That meant Ming Shu wouldn't give up these two exams either.

 

On his last trip home from boarding school before the end of the school year, Ming Shu set his yearbook down on the coffee table and turned to Wen Yue. In a perfectly innocent and naive voice, he asked, "Mama, where will I be going for middle school?"

Wen Yue tensed. "Shiyan Junior High," she answered. "You'll stay with your grandfather until the beginning of August before coming back to start on the admissions procedure."

Shiyan Junior High was the best middle school in Yancheng. When Ming Shu gazed into Wen Yue's eyes, he could see that she was lying even to herself.

After dinner, he picked up his backpack and yearbook and said, "I'll be doing homework in my room."

In that moment, Wen Yue sensed there was something not quite right with Ming Shu. But she subconsciously forced herself not to think too much about it.

Shiyan Junior High was indeed a cover. She and Ming Haofeng had already discussed it and reached a decision. Once Ming Shu graduated from Canxin Elementary, they would send him overseas.

A year and a half ago, Wen Yue had been the one who insisted on taking Ming Shu away from the Ming family and playing the part of a mother. Now, she was the one insisting on sending Ming Shu away.

She couldn't take it anymore. Although Ming Shu was attending a boarding school, she still felt immense pressure. She did her very best to act like a good mother. She'd even taken Ming Shu to her dinner parties. But she just couldn't acclimate.

She never should have had Ming Shu.

He was here to get revenge on her.

But sending Ming Shu back to his paternal grandfather wasn't an option. Ming Shu's actions from a year ago had frightened her. She had no way of knowing what would happen if Ming Shu went back. He could very well turn into a violent psychopath again.

Ming Haofeng didn't approve of sending Ming Shu back either.

After talking it over, they decided to send Ming Shu abroad. They couldn't take good care of Ming Shu, so they would have him stay far away from them and find a new start somewhere else.

Maybe… maybe Ming Shu would be more comfortable with a foreign education system?

As for allowing Ming Shu to visit his grandfather, that was impossible. Wen Yue was sure Ming Shu was lying to her. He didn't want to see his grandfather and grandmother; he wanted to see those children from the Xiao family.

Wen Yue didn't like Ming Shu, but she still felt a warped sort of possessiveness when it came to Ming Shu. She was immensely displeased to learn Ming Shu had grown close to these outsiders. She was Ming Shu's only mother, after all.

Upon returning to his room, Ming Shu didn't start on his homework. He sat for a while, then took out all the money he had saved.

He knew perfectly well that he was running out of chances to escape from this family. He couldn't wait until summer break. It would be easier to escape from school than from this house.

He couldn't contact his gege, either. His gege was about to take his college entrance exams soon. If he knew Ming Shu had left home, he would be worried.

Ming Shu calmly gathered what he would need to take with him. He didn't pack much—just his money, the letters his gege had sent him, and the two bracelets that he had always kept with him. He took the promise note his gege had written for him too.

At the end of his trip home, Ming Shu was driven back to Canxin Elementary by Ming Haofeng, who promised he would attend Ming Shu's graduation ceremony in half a month.

When he first started elementary school, Ming Shu had wished and wished for Ming Haofeng to attend his parent-teacher conferences. Now, hearing this, he only smiled politely.

"Okay, Papa."

 

Canxin Elementary was situated halfway up a mountain. They were extremely strict with their students, but Ming Shu knew of one road that led down the mountain. He would have to make his escape in the middle of the night; he would be too easily discovered during the day.

He'd carefully calculated his time. As long as he could board a long-distance bus out of Yancheng before morning classes began, his plan could be considered half-complete.

Upon discovering him missing, his homeroom teacher would definitely contact Wen Yue and Ming Haofeng right away. But Ming Shu would already have boarded a bus by then. He'd mapped out his route already. As long as he didn't take a bus that went straight from Yancheng to the city where he'd grown up, he almost definitely wouldn't be discovered.

He had enough money to take a 'roundabout' way home.

On Wednesday night, after their evening exercise class, the students began to trickle back to their dorm rooms.

Since the sixth graders were about to graduate, the teachers were a little more lenient with them. They allowed the students to spend more time in the lobby of their dorms, preparing for their graduation ceremony.

Ming Shu, carrying his backpack, took a look around as he got ready to leave. Just as he was about to set out, he heard Fu Ying, who sat at the desk in front of him in class, call out to him.

"Ming Shu! You're making a speech at the ceremony, come practice!"

"I don't feel very well today," Ming Shu said. "Tomorrow, okay?"

Fu Ying didn't doubt him for a second. He just waved Ming Shu off and said, "Then hurry up and go get some rest!"

Ming Shu had actually received a lot of kindness at Canxin Elementary. All these kids had been 'discarded' at a boarding school by their families. There was something out of the ordinary about all of their home lives, and that led them to treasure one another.

Before Ming Shu crept out through a hole in the western wall, he stopped and looked back at the brightly lit school building. He bowed to it and whispered, "Goodbye."

 

The path down the mountain was steep and treacherous. It was extremely hard to navigate. Even though Ming Shu had prepared himself for the journey, his chest still filled up with fear. He fell halfway, twisting his ankle. It wasn't serious, but every step he took afterwards was laced with pain.

Ming Shu didn't dare walk on the paved roads that wound down the mountain. Cars passed by on that road sometimes, and he couldn't risk being picked up and sent back to school. He crept down through the forest surrounding those roads, charting a difficult course down the mountain.

At four in the morning, he finally made his way to the bottom of the mountain. There was still a ways to go before he would reach the long-distance bus terminal.

There were cabs parked at the foot of the mountain, but Ming Shu didn't dare hail one of them. He grit his teeth against the pain and ran for the bus terminal on foot.

When the sky turned blue-green with the first hints of daybreak, Ming Shu bought his ticket for the first leg of his trip. He wolfed down a jiangbing guozi, then boarded the bus and sat in the second-to-last row, pulling his cap down low to cover his face.

The driver, a middle-aged man, studied him for a long moment. "Hey, what's a little kid like you doing on the bus so early?"

Solemnly, Ming Shu answered, "My mama is sick. I have to hurry home to visit her. Uncle, when is the bus leaving?"

"Whoa, so filial!" The bus driver laughed approvingly and gave Ming Shu some bread and a ham sausage.

Ming Shu shrank into his seat, sweating all over.

He wasn't anywhere near as calm as he looked. When the bus driver struck up a conversation with him, he was beyond nervous that the driver would sense something was wrong and call the police.

Luckily, the driver seemed to believe his story. By the time the sun fully rose, the bus was already on its way, sailing down the highway, towards the place Ming Shu called home.

By the time Wen Yue learned of Ming Shu's disappearance, it was already midday.

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