Upon entering high school, Ming Shu started living in the dorms.
When Du Hao saw Ming Shu's name on the list of students who would be boarding at school, he was scared half to death. "Ming-ge, what are you living at school for? Your home is so close to the campus. I'm not even living in the dorms, and you are?"
"My father is back in town," Ming Shu said. It was class registration day, and he was wearing a sporty white outfit with an asymmetrical gold pattern. It was an extraordinarily flashy getup. When Ming Shu spoke, his voice remained calm and collected. He was clearly unhurried and unbothered.
Du Hao, however, nearly spat out his mouthful of Sprite.
"Hah? What'd he come back for? Does he want to take you away again?" Du Hao had never forgotten what happened in that year and a half of elementary school. Back then, he'd thought his and Ming Shu's friendship was over for good. He'd gone home and cried at least three times.
Although Du Hao didn't know everything about Ming Shu's family situation, he knew Ming Shu wasn't on good terms with his parents. As soon as he heard that Ming Shu's dad was back, Du Hao bristled as though he were facing down an enemy.
"No." Ming Shu signed his name at the book collection desk and picked up his textbooks. There wasn't much emotion on his face; anyone would have thought he was pretty cool.
Among boys, Ming Shu had matured relatively early. He was only a first year in high school, but he was already 1.8 meters tall. Over the summer, he had been dragged off to the gym by Xiao Jincheng, who was preparing to start studying to become a police officer. Ming Shu had developed some lean muscle in his arms and abdomen, so he didn't look as frail as many other boys his age.
As he walked down the hall, Ming Shu kept his head raised high with an air of youthfulness and a touch of arrogance. He attracted many lingering gazes. Someone stopped and whispered, "See him? He's the one from First Middle, the one who was known as the most handsome boy in his class."
Du Hao didn't care about all that gossip. He was more concerned with his friend. "Wait, so why are you living at school? Are you having problems at home again?"
"I can't be bothered to look at them every day," Ming Shu stated coldly. "My mother is back too. The two of them are living together now, and they want me to live with them. Would you be happy with that, if you were in my shoes?"
Du Hao was confused. "They… but don't they have an arranged marriage? I thought they didn't get involved in each other's lives."
"Who knows," Ming Shu said dismissively, with a disdainful tsk. "They scorned each other for so long. If they suddenly want to get along and live together, fine."
By the time they made it halfway down the hall, Du Hao more or less understood why Ming Shu was going to be living at school.
Ming Haofeng and Wen Yue had moved back; they were living together in the heart of the city, and they would visit Ming Han and Ming Shu every few days. It seemed they wanted to reconcile and live together as a harmonious family.
But Ming Shu had no interest in going along with their plan. He couldn't be bothered to watch them play the part of a loving couple, nor could he be bothered to play the part of a filial son. Besides, all three of his gege from the Xiao family had moved on to college. Ming Shu naturally registered to live in the dorms, in order to avoid seeing his parents.
Out of sight, out of mind.
The Ming family had fought over that again. Ming Haofeng yelled at Ming Shu for being a disobedient ingrate. Ming Shu didn't protest, but he also didn't relent or compromise. In the end, it was Wen Yue who told them all to forget it. Ming Shu was already grown up, she said. If he wanted to live at school, then they would let him live at school.
Du Hao felt the Ming family was really troublesome, and he knew it must not have been easy for his Ming-ge to grow up in a household like that. Wen Yue and Ming Haofeng had been at odds for half their lives already. And now they wanted to make nice? They wanted to give Ming-ge a home?
Even if his Ming-ge was okay with it, Du Hao wouldn't be okay with it.
And just like that, Ming Shu started living at the dorms. Sometimes, he would go home for a visit over the weekend, but not always. When he went back, he would only visit Ming Han and Xiao Zhengyun. The two grandpas were both getting older now, and they weren't as nimble and spry as they used to be. Sometimes Ming Shu would help out around the house, sometimes he would eat a meal with them.
Xiao Jincheng had always said that Ming Shu was too considerate. And Ming Shu really was. Wen Yue and Ming Haofeng meant nothing to him, but Ming Han did.
No matter what, Ming Han had raised him. Years ago, Ming Han was the one who'd spoken up and told Ming Shu's parents to let him stay. This old man had been stiff and solemn all his life, and he rarely showed any emotions. But Ming Shu knew his grandfather cared about him, deep in his heart.
If Ming Shu happened to run into Wen Yue and Ming Haofeng when he visited, he wouldn't eat at the house with them. His parents could reconcile their own differences, but Ming Shu wouldn't so easily accept them back into his life.
He didn't need them.
He was living quite comfortably at school.
The dorms at First High were four to a room. Ming Shu was taking the science track, and Du Hao was taking humanities. It seemed more than ten years of friendship would be destroyed by the division of science and humanities classes. But Du Hao ran over to Ming Shu's dorm room all the time, bringing baozi and cakes from home. Soon enough, Du Hao practically became the fifth brother of Ming Shu's dorm.
Ming Shu's three roommates had all tested into First High from other schools. They didn't know about anything that had happened in junior high. After getting acquainted with Du Hao, they all asked him—with Ming Shu looking the way he did, how was it possible that he wasn't in a relationship yet?
While splitting a cake for the boys, Du Hao said, "Who knows? He just loves studying, I guess."
Everyone laughed. Ming Shu? Loves studying? His grades weren't good or bad, and Ming Shu was indeed smart, but he didn't put that much effort into his schoolwork. He spent most of his free time playing basketball.
If Ming Shu really loved studying, he was smart enough that he would have made it to the top of their class ranks a long time ago.
Du Hao did actually have a guess in his heart, but he didn't say it out loud. He didn't share his guess with anyone, and he didn't even ask Ming Shu. Those were Ming Shu's private matters. Whether Du Hao's guess was right or wrong, he would support Ming Shu.
There was a good chance that Ming Shu's lack of interest in dating had something to do with Xiao Yu'an.
When they were younger, Du Hao knew that Xiao Yu'an was his Ming-ge's role model. Now they were all older. Everyone thought of one thing at this age; would his Ming-ge not be thinking about it too? Du Hao figured there was at least an eighty percent chance that his Ming-ge was thinking about Xiao Yu'an.
Xiao Yu'an was a man, but Du Hao didn't care about that. It wasn't like every man had to be with a woman.
Many, many people asked Ming Shu why he didn't have a girlfriend. Usually, he couldn't be bothered to answer. But if someone really pestered him, and if he was in a good enough mood, he would take out his cell phone and show off a photo of a scrap of paper.
On that piece of paper—
I, Ming Shu, swear not to date in school.
"I promised my guardian. No dating in school."
If anyone else said a thing like that, they would have said it while sobbing bitterly. Anyone would have hated being forbidden from dating in school. There were some who could resign themselves to a loveless school life, but no one who was like Ming Shu, who seemed almost boastful of the fact that he had someone prohibiting him from dating.
But a note like this was just outlandish. Ming-ge wasn't afraid to get into fights and brawls, but he was afraid to date? He could just keep it on the down-low. How hard could it be to hide a relationship from his guardian?
Ming Shu's three roommates didn't buy the note as the true reason for Ming Shu's lack of a love life. They pressed Du Hao for more information, and Du Hao, struck by sudden inspiration, said it was because Ming Shu's family was extremely strict.
When Ming Shu heard that, he only smiled with his eyes, like a wily fox.
He actually had already fallen in love.
He'd fallen for his ge.
Ming Shu didn't know exactly when he'd started liking Xiao Yu'an. But when his ge visited for New Year's that year, it had been especially cold. His ge had taken a scarf and wrapped it around Ming Shu's neck.
Ming Shu's heart had beat rapidly. His breathing grew hot and shallow, and his cheeks were stained a deep, deep red.
He was pretty sure that could only be 'like'.
Not the sort of 'like' a didi harbored for his gege, but that kind of 'like'. The purest and most fervent sort.
That night over New Year's break, Ming Shu had rushed into the bathroom. He didn't emerge for a long while, and he thought only of his gege the whole time.
If Ming Shu really tried to trace those feelings back to their root, he might have pinned down the start as that fateful morning when he snuck a peek at his gege's morning 'condition'.
Ming Shu had hidden that secret the whole time. He told no one. But he often dreamt about that morning. His gege was a man, and Ming Shu was on the cusp of becoming a man just like his gege.
Almost effortlessly, he'd accepted that he had fallen for his gege. Loving Xiao Yu'an was his reality.
If he didn't like Xiao Yu'an, then who could he possibly like? His gege had been his target, his goal ever since he was little. His sights had always been set on that person who walked in front of him. Ming Shu had never even looked at anyone else.
But Ming Shu didn't know if his gege would like him back. Not the sort of like between brothers, but the sort of like between lovers.
After graduating from the University of Public Security, Xiao Yu'an was dispatched on various confidential missions. Sometimes, he completely dropped off the grid; there would be no way to contact him. When Ming Shu was in his first year of high school, Xiao Yu'an still had time to at least check in once in a while, asking how Ming Shu was doing at school and if he was getting along with his classmates.
By the time Ming Shu started his second year of high school, Xiao Yu'an basically had no time or energy to spare.
He had no idea how fiercely Ming Shu worried when he was unable to get in touch with Xiao Yu'an. He didn't know how scared Ming Shu was, and he didn't know Ming Shu would utter his name again and again, the way adolescents brimming over with emotion often did.
As a result of his inability to watch over Ming Shu, Xiao Yu'an experienced a fleeting moment of shock when he did finally see Ming Shu again. The young man standing in front of him looked almost like a stranger.
It was the summer after Ming Shu's second year of high school. Ming Shu had come to the capital all by himself.
He'd contacted Xiao Yu'an in advance and said, "Ge, since you can't come back, I'll visit you during my break."
Xiao Yu'an was currently living in an apartment assigned to him by his workplace. He had a break coming up, so of course he agreed to let Ming Shu visit. But he did remind Ming Shu to bring along his homework; Ming Shu would be a third year in high school soon, after all.
Summer break for soon-to-be third years at First High lasted only a month. They had to get back to school early, in August. That meant Ming Shu could only spend a month with his gege, at most.
He didn't want to waste that precious time on homework, but he still played the part of a good student and obediently brought along his workbooks.
Ming Shu's flight landed early in the evening. Xiao Yu'an drove out to pick him up and found that Ming Shu had gotten taller again. He was already taller than Xiao Jincheng. He wore a green t-shirt and jeans, with his hair swept back to expose his forehead. He wore a black watch on one wrist, along with a string of wooden beads.
Xiao Yu'an was surprised enough to stare for a second, until Ming Shu broke out in a huge grin and called out, "Ge!"
After getting into the car, Ming Shu subconsciously sniffed the air and detected a faint scent of perfume or cologne.
"What are you sniffing at?" Xiao Yu'an asked, reminding him to put on his seatbelt before getting them on the road.
Of course, Ming Shu was trying to see if there was anyone else's scent in the car. Ming Shu didn't say anything, but he was deeply preoccupied by something. Once school started again, he would be eighteen. His ge was almost twenty-four; there would definitely be someone with their eye on him. Ming Shu just didn't know whether or not his ge had taken time out of his busy schedule to date.
It wasn't easy to ask such a thing over the phone, and it was even more difficult to ask Jinlan-jie.
But according to Ming Shu's observations, his ge had yet to get into a relationship.
The scent in the car was quite comfortable. It didn't seem like a mix of bizarre scents. Ming Shu was able to relax for the moment, but before they reached Xiao Yu'an's apartment, he still found himself asking, "Ge, do you live by yourself?"
Ming Shu personally thought that was a very smooth, casual, and normal question. After asking, he glanced over and fixed his gaze on Xiao Yu'an.
"Did Jinlan tell you to ask?" Xiao Yu'an said.
Xiao Yu'an had been on the phone with Xiao Jinlan just last night. Xiao Jinlan was the typical big sister; she was extremely concerned about Xiao Yu'an's personal matters. Xiao Yu'an had told her that he was busy, and that he had no time for that sort of thing, but Xiao Jinlan didn't seem to totally believe him.
Xiao Yu'an had figured Ming Shu would also ask. And as expected…
But ever since picking Ming Shu up at the airport, Xiao Yu'an had been feeling something he didn't quite know how to describe.
The little kid really had grown up. He would come of age in October, and not only had he grown taller, his figure had filled out as well. He was no longer a skinny bamboo pole, like he'd been in middle school.
Even the way Ming Shu looked at him had changed.
"Huh? Jie didn't ask me to ask," Ming Shu said, blinking twice. "I was just worried you had someone staying with you. That would make it inconvenient for me to stay there, right?"
Xiao Yu'an smiled. "But you still came, even knowing it would be an inconvenience?"
Ming Shu jumped, scared half to death. "There really is someone?"
As Xiao Yu'an parked, he teased, "Mm. There is."