MINT-STAINED SHIRT

Chapter 61

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At first, Ming Shu hadn't planned on letting his gege find out about his feelings so soon.

He had dwelled on it all by himself for more than half of his high school years, and he was already sure of what he felt. He liked Xiao Yu'an. Seriously. Earnestly. It was the possessive and all-consuming sort of like.

It was love. Not a feeling of brotherhood, or any other sort of feeling.

Just love.

The boys at the dorm sometimes told dirty stories in the night. Sometimes, one of them wouldn't be able to stay calm and would have to run off into the bathroom.

Ming Shu had also run off before. Whenever he did, he thought only of Xiao Yu'an.

In Ming Shu's fantasies, Xiao Yu'an wasn't his gege anymore. He was his boyfriend.

But Ming Shu wasn't ready to confess.

He'd made this trip to the capital because he missed his ge. If he just got to spend time with his ge without doing anything else, he would have been perfectly happy.

Ming Shu knew his ge very well, after all. He was about to start his third year of high school. If he had the nerve to confess now, his ge would definitely reject him.

The promise he'd written to not date in school was still in his ge's possession, and the third year of high school was a critical time in every student's life. If his ge agreed to go out with him now, it would be some sort of freak miracle.

Sometimes Ming Shu didn't feel like this was anything urgent, but sometimes he felt differently.

Sometimes, he thought it didn't matter if he waited, because his ge belonged to him. Once Ming Shu became a police officer, how could his ge refuse him?

Then, other times, he thought his ge didn't have those sorts of feelings for him at all. Ming Shu didn't even really know if his ge was interested in men or women.

Ming Shu had planned on spending a nice and uneventful summer with his ge. He thought he'd hidden his feelings very well. Little did he know, when one person liked another, every glance and every touch—even the slightest, most subtle ones—were loaded with intent.

Xiao Yu'an saw right through him.

Ming Shu had been clingy ever since he was a kid. If he could sleep in a bed with Xiao Yu'an, he would refuse to sleep anywhere else. And he was a horrible little sleeper. Before falling asleep, he would stick to Xiao Yu'an. And after he fell asleep, his movements would be even more unruly. He would hug and cuddle, and sometimes he would even cause Xiao Yu'an to wake up with some trouble breathing. Xiao Yu'an often opened his eyes to find the weight of Ming Shu sprawled out over his chest.

But during this trip, Ming Shu was clingy in a noticeably different way.

Xiao Yu'an's team was on vacation, and it was scorchingly hot out. Going out to eat at night was fine, but going out in the middle of the day was unbearable. So, every morning, Xiao Yu'an would take Ming Shu out to the local shops to buy groceries for lunch, and they would cook and eat at home.

Ming Shu was like the young master of the Xiao family. He'd never done many chores. He could cook noodles and scrambled eggs, and he could make a decent pot of rice. But when Xiao Yu'an busied himself in the kitchen, Ming Shu couldn't even play the part of an assistant. He could only watch on from the side.

After watching for a while, Ming Shu would always shuffle closer. Sometimes he hugged Xiao Yu'an from behind. Sometimes he pressed his forehead to the nape of Xiao Yu'an's neck. And sometimes he lifted himself up on his tiptoes and put his chin on Xiao Yu'an's shoulder.

There were too many of these intimate little gestures. Some of them were acceptable between brothers, and some of them were things only lovers would do.

The first time Ming Shu hugged him from behind, Xiao Yu'an thought something felt off about it. He'd stepped away and batted Ming Shu off.

Ming Shu was a bit spoiled in nature. In the past, whenever Xiao Yu'an shooed him away, he would scoot back over in a short while and start sticking to him again.

But not this time.

It was like Ming Shu understood he'd done something he wasn't supposed to do. He obediently moved away and quietly took a tomato over to the sink to start peeling it.

But two days later, he did the same thing again.

It was like he knew he shouldn't, but he couldn't help himself.

Furthermore, Ming Shu also liked asking Xiao Yu'an to help him dry his hair after taking a shower. When they watched TV at night, he would sprawl out across Xiao Yu'an's legs. Whenever Xiao Yu'an brought someone up in conversation, whether it was a teammate or a classmate or even just the owner of the local convenience store, Ming Shu would always interrogate him about exactly who that person was.

When Xiao Yu'an gave it some thought, he realized it wasn't strange at all for Ming Shu to like someone, anyone, at his age.

But suddenly becoming the object of Ming Shu's affections was something that Xiao Yu'an struggled to accept.

He'd always treated Ming Shu like his didi. Ming Shu was his responsibility. Ming Shu was different from everyone who'd tried to get close to him before.

Xiao Yu'an was quite perceptive when it came to other people's opinion of him. Usually, when people took a romantic interest in him, he was able to sense it before they confessed.

But if they didn't directly confront him with their feelings, Xiao Yu'an wouldn't bring it up. He'd done the same thing back in school, before their class flower confessed to him.

But Ming Shu wasn't just anyone.

 

Ming Shu had no idea those little gestures of his, the ones he couldn't restrain, had already been noticed and deciphered by his ge.

When he asked his ge to help him dry his hair, his ge would always help him. When he lay across his ge's legs and refused to get up, his ge didn't just throw him off. When he interrogated his ge about the people who popped up in stories of his everyday life, his ge told him he was too nosy but still answered all his questions in the end.

And he liked hugging his ge from behind. His ge pushed him off a few times, but he never ordered Ming Shu to stop.

One evening, it started to rain. It was the first time it had rained since Ming Shu came to the capital, and it was a torrential downpour. Heavy winds and rain whipped through the air. Xiao Yu'an brought in the laundry from the balcony, and returned and leaned against the railing to watch the rain.

The wind was blowing sideways, not inwards, so he and Ming Shu could stand on the balcony without being drenched.

Ming Shu's ge was wearing a black tank top and camouflage lounge pants that day. He still wore the blue, cow-print slippers that had originally been meant for Ming Shu.

Ming Shu felt his heart ache at just the sight of his ge. Originally, he'd just wanted to stand on the balcony with him and watch the wind and rain. But when he moved closer, he reached out, driven by instinct, and wrapped his arms around his ge's waist.

The day before yesterday, they'd gone to the supermarket and picked up a bottle of mint-scented bodywash. Now, his ge smelled faintly of mint. It was a similar scent to the mint-flavored popsicles they'd eaten as kids.

Ming Shu breathed in carefully, but greedily. Just as he was about to press his forehead to the nape of his ge's neck, his hands were pushed away.

His ge turned to look at him with gently furrowed brows, and he looked more serious than usual.

Ming Shu's pulse suddenly sped up, rumbling in his eardrums.

He didn't know if thunder was rolling across the sky, or if that thunder came from the anxious beating of his heart.

The wind that had been blowing sideways suddenly changed direction, sending a gust of rain onto the balcony and drenching Ming Shu's face with a blast of cold water.

He suddenly felt more alert, but not by much. He still felt panicked, alarmed. But he didn't fully understand why he was panicking.

His gaze met Xiao Yu'an's. He hazily realized that his ge seemed to know… everything.

"Ge…" His voice was soft, and he subconsciously reached for his ge's wrist.

He felt stiff and tense all of a sudden. His usually agile body felt like it had been locked down, frozen in place. He could move, but he moved mechanically, like a robot.

Xiao Yu'an took in Ming Shu's awkward, stilted movements and sighed inwardly.

Through the rain and fog, a bolt of white lightning pierced the clouds in the sky.

Ming Shu jumped. Xiao Yu'an left the balcony and closed the windows, before turning back to call out, "Don't stand out there. Come inside."

Ming Shu's throat was dry. He could feel that something was about to happen. He could tell his ge was going to say something to him. And he more or less knew what his ge was going to say, but he tried not to think about it. He didn't want to think about it.

"Come here." Xiao Yu'an sat down on the couch and nodded to the seat across from him, to the side. "Sit there."

Ming Shu was uneasy. He sat stiffly, with his back ramrod straight, not touching the back of the couch.

"Ge wants to ask you a few questions." Xiao Yu'an had also never faced anything like this before. He wasn't any more relaxed than Ming Shu. Had it been anyone else, he wouldn't have bothered to confront their feelings.

But this was Ming Shu, and Ming Shu wasn't anyone else.

Ming Shu balled both his hands into fists and pressed them to his knees. His palms were uncomfortably slick with sweat. "Ge, don't… be so serious. You're scaring me."

He really was scared, but it wasn't really fear. This was just so unexpected. He wasn't ready.

The wind had well and truly changed direction. Instead of blowing straight across, it was whipping into the building now. It was a good thing they'd taken in the laundry earlier. Now, only the curtains of the sliding balcony door were being whipped around like the billowing hem of a long skirt.

Xiao Yu'an hesitated for a moment, but ultimately decided there were questions that had to be asked. There was no sense in putting this off. His voice was deep and meaningful as he asked, "What's really going on in your heart."

Ming Shu's mind buzzed, and his eyes went wide.

They just stared at each other for a while, neither of them averting their gaze.

Ming Shu opened his mouth a few times. He was so frantic that his throat tensed, the muscles going visibly taut. Finally, he said, "Ge, you… you know everything?"

After a second, Xiao Yu'an nodded.

Ming Shu felt like his chest had been stuffed full of cotton, muffling the frantic beat of his heart.

That piece of cotton had been tightly balled up in his chest. But now, the pressure that had been keeping it tamped down was gone. It blew up in an instant, ballooning and expanding to the point that Ming Shu felt some discomfort.

But he could still breathe. And it didn't hurt.

He was just uncomfortable.

Itchy.

He wanted to grab that cotton stuffing and yank it out. But he couldn't reach into his chest. There was nothing he could do.

He hadn't planned on what he would say. He hadn't thought about what he would do if he were to be rejected. His ge… really, why did his ge have to catch him off guard like this?

Wasn't his ge supposed to spoil and pamper him?

Why was he like this now…

His deeply hidden feelings had been discovered, and they had been brusquely excavated. There was nothing romantic about the revelation of these romantic feelings. This wasn't a confession. It was an interrogation.

Ming Shu wasn't happy. He didn't want this. Not like this.

He felt wronged.

This also wasn't a scene Xiao Yu'an could have envisioned.

Ever since they were kids, Xiao Yu'an had watched over Ming Shu and scolded and educated him countless times. They'd been separated for the past five years, and they saw a lot less of each other. But when an issue needed to be addressed, or when a lesson needed to be taught, Xiao Yu'an was always there. He'd never felt like there was anything too embarrassing for him and Ming Shu to talk about openly and honestly.

But this was different.

As soon as he addressed this matter, Xiao Yu'an felt like he'd lost control of the situation. In the past, whenever he needed to teach Ming Shu a lesson, it was all about Ming Shu. But now, Xiao Yu'an was deeply involved as well.

And when feelings were involved, the matter couldn't be easily resolved with logic and rationality.

It was rare for him to feel so perplexed and confused, to not know how he was supposed to educate Ming Shu.

After a brief moment of panic, Ming Shu's frustration and irritation rose up and became the dominant feelings in his chest. The feelings of inexperience and awkwardness, the fear of the unknown—all these anxieties that came from harboring a secret, one-sided crush suddenly disappeared.

What am I afraid of, huh? Ming Shu thought brazenly. I fell for someone I grew up with. He's amazing in every way. He treats me better than anyone. He's the best person in the world.

I like him. I love him. Why should I be embarrassed?

Why should I stay silent?

"Ge!" Ming Shu suddenly stood up. He was impulsive, fearless, or naive… maybe all of the above. All those feelings that only adolescents had coursed through him, igniting him like a fuse.

His ge's question had lit him up.

He had to do something. He had to say something. Or he would lose his mind.

Xiao Yu'an watched as the youth approached him. Ming Shu's cheeks were scarlet. His chest rose and fell sharply beneath his white t-shirt. Those bright, clear eyes possessed a fierceness, a passion that Xiao Yu'an had never seen before, like dancing flames had burst forth from Ming Shu's pupils.

Inadvertently, Xiao Yu'an furrowed his brows.

Ming Shu stopped in front of Xiao Yu'an. His heart continued to race, and his vision practically blurred.

"You asked what's going on in my heart. I…" Ming Shu couldn't control the tremble in his voice. He couldn't even really hear or understand what he was saying. His mouth moved practically of its own accord. The words spilled from him, raw and unpolished.

These were words that came straight from his heart.

"I don't want to be your didi anymore. I don't want to be the tail that follows you around. And I don't want you to be my gege. I… I'm grown up already. I'm about to turn eighteen, and… and I'll be a man, then. Men like us… a man doesn't need a gege.

"I don't want a gege. I want a boyfriend. Ge…"

Ming Shu suddenly shook his head. Awkwardly, he called out the name he knew very well, but almost never uttered:

"Xiao Yu'an.

"I like you, Xiao Yu'an.

"I want to go out with you. I want to be your boyfriend."

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