MINT-STAINED SHIRT

Chapter 57

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Ming Shu stared at that long, slender scar like his brain had stopped working.

The scar was a little lighter than the skin that surrounded it. It was unevenly raised, protruding more in the middle and less at the two sides. The edges of the scar were a little wrinkly, making it look like an unsightly worm.

A buzzing filled Ming Shu's ears, like a swarm of irritating flying insects. But his mind was completely blank. He couldn't dredge up a single thought. He could only stare in a stupefied daze

After a while, Ming Shu numbly lifted his own hand and held it up in front of the scar. It was a shock to realize that the scar was as long as his palm and middle finger put together.

When Ming Shu pulled back his hand, a shiver ran through his whole body. The soles of his feet felt cold. Tears swelled in his eyes before his mind even caught up to what he was seeing.

With his ears still ringing, with his mind still blank, he cried.

He sat right there on the floor by the bed, with his legs folded under himself, still wearing the tank top and shorts he'd worn to sleep. And he cried. He cried soundlessly, but his shoulders shook uncontrollably. His tears slid down his face and dripped down to splatter against his knees, his hands.

He didn't even think to wake his gege up. He just cried, all by himself.

It had taken Xiao Yu'an a long time to fall asleep last night. He was still sleeping deeply when he sensed some movement from beside him. When he finally stirred, he was only half-conscious. But once he turned to see what was happening, his drowsiness instantly vanished.

There was a kid with a face full of tears right next to his bed. His eyes and the tip of his nose were vibrantly red, and his nostrils flared again and again with his restrained sobs. His tears were still flowing, and he was still shaking.

"What's wrong? What's going on?" Xiao Yu'an hurriedly took Ming Shu's arm. His voice was still raspy from sleep, deep and husky in a way that easily reached the depths of one's heart.

"Ge—!" Ming Shu wailed. He had been crying all this time, but he'd stayed silent. He hadn't let any of his sobs slip out. But now, after hearing those comforting words from his gege, all the hurt and misery and anxiety in Ming Shu's heart burst free. He sobbed and wailed, out loud.

He hadn't cried like this in a long, long time.

He couldn't even remember crying like this when he was a child.

But now he couldn't stop. He just couldn't.

Such a long and ugly scar… how had his gege gotten hurt? How could this happen? The New Year's before last, his gege had been fine. Jinlan-jie had taken them to a hot spring, and Ming Shu had seen that his gege's waist was just fine. Unscarred.

Xiao Yu'an didn't know what was going on. He got out of bed and knelt down on the bamboo mat with Ming Shu, wrapping him up in a hug. "What's wrong? Tell your ge, what's going on?"

This had happened before, when Ming Shu was little. It had also been early one morning, with Xiao Yu'an waking up to the faint sound of someone sniffling. He'd found Ming Shu curled up at the foot of his bed, crying. It had taken ages for Xiao Yu'an to coax him into talking about what was wrong. As it turned out, Ming Shu had had a nightmare in which his parents didn't want him, and his gege and jiejie didn't want him either.

Rationally speaking, Ming Shu was now almost a third year in middle school. Plus, he felt basically nothing for Wen Yue and Ming Haofeng these days. A nightmare shouldn't have been enough to make him cry like this.

Xiao Yu'an grabbed the tissue box from the nightstand and ripped out several sheets for Ming Shu, helping him wipe his eyes. "If something is wrong, tell me. Just what is going on?"

It wasn't that Ming Shu didn't want to tell him. He definitely had to ask how his gege had gotten that scar. But after crying so hard, he could barely breathe. Every time he tried to speak, he shuddered. But now his gege was holding him against his chest, and his gege's chest had gotten so much stronger and more solid. Leaning there, Ming Shu could hear the deep and steady beat of his gege's heart.

He started counting those beats, and he gradually calmed down.

"Ge." Ming Shu reached out and placed both his hands on his gege's leg. "Are you hurt?"

Xiao Yu'an didn't understand.

Was he hurt where? What was supposed to hurt?

Ming Shu's emotions still weren't fully under control. As soon as he asked, his nose twitched again, spasming with the threat of another wave of tears. He gazed up at his gege, and his voice trembled as he repeated, "Ge, are you hurting?"

Xiao Yu'an furrowed his brow. Now, he suddenly understood what Ming Shu was talking about. He instinctively touched a hand to the back of his own waist.

Only his father and Xiao Mu'ting knew about his injury. Xiao Yu'an hadn't planned on telling his grandpa or Ming Shu during that trip home. It wasn't a bad wound, but the scar looked serious. It would take at least another year before the raised flesh would smooth out again.

While he'd slept, his tank top must have ridden up. And he'd slept with his back to Ming Shu, so Ming Shu must have seen.

This was exactly why he hadn't wanted to tell Ming Shu. Ming Shu was closer to him than anyone. Even when Xiao Yu'an had gotten minor scrapes in fights in the past, Ming Shu would feel bad enough to cry. How could Xiao Yu'an show him a scar like this?

But in the end, Ming Shu had seen it anyway.

"It's fine now," Xiao Yu'an said, soothing Ming Shu as best as he could. "It hurt a little when it happened, but now it doesn't hurt at all."

Ming Shu sniffled and used the backs of his hands to wipe at his tears. Once he'd cleared his eyes, he crawled behind his gege to closely examine the scar. His heart ached. "How did you get hurt?"

Since things had already gotten to this point, Xiao Yu'an couldn't continue to cover up the story. But he couldn't tell the truth, either. Ming Shu was at an age where his imagination had a tendency to run wild, and he was an extremely sensitive kid to begin with. If Xiao Yu'an told Ming Shu that he'd sustained this injury in battle, and that it had been an incredibly tense and dangerous situation, there was a good chance Ming Shu would never get a good night's sleep again.

"I wasn't careful during training," Xiao Yu'an said reassuringly. "The instructor even scolded me."

Hearing that, Ming Shu suddenly felt angry and aggrieved. "You were hurt! How could anyone scold you?!"

The little kid was genuinely affronted on his behalf. He would always protect and defend Xiao Yu'an. Of course, Xiao Yu'an was touched. He tugged his tank top back down to cover the scar and said, "I deserved it. It was my mistake."

Ming Shu furiously shook his head in disagreement. "My gege is good at everything. There's nothing my gege can't do well!"

Xiao Yu'an sighed inwardly. He wanted to brush this whole incident back under the rug, but suddenly he heard Ming Shu ask, "Ge, can I touch it?"

With things having progressed so far, could Xiao Yu'an say no? He nodded and lifted the hem of his shirt again. "Go ahead."

Ming Shu carefully, carefully reached out and put his finger on the scar, then quickly snatched back his hand as though he'd been burned.

He was afraid of hurting his gege.

Xiao Yu'an glanced back. "Done?"

"I'll touch it some more," Ming Shu said. He reached out again, and he was still careful, but this time he didn't jerk his hand away after a quick brush.

Against his fingers, the scar was like an exposed muscle. A little hard, and uneven in the way it dipped and rose.

As Ming Shu touched the scar, his lips quivered and quirked down into a frown.

His gege had said it didn't hurt anymore, but it must have hurt when he was first injured. It was such a long scar. Ming Shu had gotten into plenty of fights, and he'd sustained plenty of injuries, but none of them had left a scar like this.

His gege had never suffered a scar like this, either.

It hurt so much, just seeing it.

Xiao Yu'an felt a numbness spread out from his lower back. The scar was actually less sensitive than the skin around it; the sensations there were typically dulled. But MIng Shu's touch was so careful and so focused that Xiao Yu'an felt every tremble of his fingers, and his fear and heartache were conveyed directly to Xiao Yu'an.

It wasn't a real, physical sort of numbness that spread. It was the psychological sort, the emotional sort that spread from one's heart when faced with such unconditional care and concern.

In the end, Xiao Yu'an tugged the hem of his shirt back down and batted Ming Shu's hand away. "Alright, you've seen enough and touched enough. Go wash your face. Don't be sad anymore."

But Ming Shu wasn't finished. If he couldn't touch anymore, fine. He was still going to nag his ge a bit more.

"Ge."

Xiao Yu'an could tell right away that Ming Shu's tone had changed. The little kid had been so upset and whiny just a moment ago, and now he spoke with the solemnity of a young adult.

But how solemn could a teenager really be? At that age, their seriousness was mostly just an act.

"Hm?" Xiao Yu'an answered.

"You're not allowed to get hurt from today on," Ming Shu said, putting on the serious and stoic persona of Ming-ge. "You're out studying at college all by yourself. I can't take care of you or watch over you, so you have to take care of yourself."

Xiao Yu'an almost burst out laughing. He thought, Do I need a little sprout like you to watch over me?

"You're laughing?" Ming Shu could tell his ge was barely holding it in. He grabbed Xiao Yu'an's knee and insisted, "I'm serious!"

"I know. I hear you." Xiao Yu'an at least acted like he was paying attention and listening closely. "Does Ming-ge have any other orders for me?"

With Xiao Yu'an putting him on the spot, Ming Shu really couldn't think of many other orders he wanted to give. He ultimately just said, "Ge, you're hurt. While you're home for these few days, just rest up."

Xiao Yu'an finally couldn't help but laugh. He shooed Ming Shu off, telling him to go wash his face and brush his teeth.

After getting answers about the scar, Ming Shu's tears finally ceased. It was only later, when he took a shower, that he remembered he'd completely forgotten to sneak a peek at how his ge was 'developing'.

The boys in Ming Shu's class were extraordinarily curious about these things. He'd heard that some of the boys who lived at school even compared themselves every morning.

Ming Shu actually wanted to compare himself to others as well, but with all the boys calling him Ming-ge, it didn't feel right. Plus, he didn't think it was all that interesting to compare his growth with the progress of boys his age. They were all still growing, weren't they? What Ming Shu really wanted was to see what a boy—ah, no, by now a man—a man a few years older than him was like early in the morning.

His gege was obviously the best candidate.

But he'd been distracted that morning, so he could only wait for the next morning. If the next morning didn't work, then the one after that.

His ge was going to stay home for a whole week, anyway.

Xiao Yu'an genuinely had no idea what Ming Shu was thinking. He was only home to visit family this time, so he hadn't gotten in touch with any of his old classmates. He planned on staying home for his whole break.

As a result, every single one of his days, from morning to night, was 'exhausting'.

It wasn't a physical sort of exhaustion. But Ming Shu treated him like an invalid who needed to be waited on hand and foot. Ming Shu fought for the right to do everything for him. He practically even wanted to help Xiao Yu'an go to the bathroom.

When Xiao Yu'an wanted to go into the kitchen to get a bottle of iced water, Ming Shu rushed to open the refrigerator door for him. Ming Shu even insisted on twisting off the cap for him, as though Xiao Yu'an was already incapable of doing that for himself.

When Xiao Yu'an put on his sandals and went out to pick up some groceries from the local market, Ming Shu tagged along. He stood on Xiao Yu'an's right side sometimes, then ducked over to his left. He was hypervigilant about making sure no one crowded his ge, and he insisted on carrying the groceries too.

But Xiao Yu'an couldn't let this skinny little monkey carry all the heavy things.

Ming Shu even went so far as to have a heart-to-heart with him about that, saying things like, "I'm doing all this for your own good."

When Xiao Yu'an got home and wanted to cook something for himself, Ming Shu insisted on helping. He put on an apron and everything.

"You know how to cook?" Xiao Yu'an asked.

Ming Shu was silent.

He could learn!

But Xiao Yu'an threw a bucket of cold water over his desire to learn. "It's too much of a hassle to teach you. Easier to do it myself."

Later in the afternoon, Xiao Yu'an flopped down in the living room and planned on messing around on his cell phone for a while. Ming Shu came right over with a tray of fruit, saying, "Ge, I cut a peach for you. Ge, do you want some bananas? Some cantaloupe?"

Ah, it was so noisy. So noisy that Xiao Yu'an felt dizzy.

Xiao Yu'an didn't feel like playing on his phone anymore. He figured he may as well use the events of this exhausting day to tease Ming Shu a little. "Do you open water bottles for the girls at school?"

Ming Shu froze for a long moment. "No."

No girls had ever approached him to open their drinks for them. But, just a while back, Du Hao had bought a bottle of Coke that he couldn't get open no matter how hard he tried. His face had even gone red from his futile attempts. In the end, he'd had to ask Ming Shu for help, and Ming Shu had easily twisted the cap off.

Ming Shu had laughed at Du Hao for that for several days.

"Then why are you so good at opening bottles for me?" Xiao Yu'an teased.

Ming Shu felt like the answer should have been obvious. "Aren't you my ge?"

It was a law of nature for him to open bottles for his ge. Duh.

Just looking at Ming Shu's earnest expression made Xiao Yu'an want to laugh again. As a little kid, Ming Shu had been as delicate as a girl, but his features were gradually maturing and growing more handsome. It was easy to imagine that he would be named the most handsome boy in school when he flashed a cool, collected expression at his peers.

But at home, Ming Shu wasn't 'cool' or 'collected' at all.

In front of Xiao Yu'an, Ming Shu was still such an annoying little thing. When he was annoying, he was seriously annoying. But when he was considerate, he was also seriously considerate.

If time rewound now to the summer Ming Shu was five, and if Xiao Yu'an were asked if he would still have picked Ming Shu up, he probably would have said yes.

For the next two days, Xiao Yu'an allowed things to go on just like that. Wherever he went, Ming Shu followed. But Ming Shu never got a chance to carry out his plan of observing his ge's 'condition' early in the morning. Because when Ming Shu woke up, his ge would already be up.

That wouldn't do. His ge's break was short, and Ming Shu's time was limited.

The next night, Ming Shu went to bed before ten. Xiao Yu'an was left puzzling over why the little kid didn't want to play more video games.

Going to bed early had its obvious perks. The next morning, Ming Shu got up before the clock even hit six. He crept out to make a trip to the bathroom, then crept back into Xiao Yu'an's room with his heart in his throat.

The sun hadn't even come up yet. His gege was lying on his back with a towel draped over his waist.

Ming Shu pretended to be asleep, but he secretly observed.

Finally, the sun rose. Light flooded in through the window.

Ming Shu stared unblinkingly, for a long moment, before he swiftly turned away with his heart beating fast and his cheeks rapidly turning warm and red.

No more looking!

And no comparing either!

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