Over the years, Ming Haofeng had grown to hate nothing more than hearing Ming Shu talk about Xiao Yu'an.
He couldn't deny that Xiao Yu'an had grown into an outstanding young man—he'd scored well on his entrance exams and entered the special ranks of the University of Public Security, he'd started accompanying his seniors on practical missions in his second year of college, and he'd joined the Ministry of Public Security upon graduation.
But the way Ming Shu felt about Xiao Yu'an, and the way Ming Shu felt about the entire Xiao family, rubbed Ming Haofeng the wrong way.
After Ming Shu entered high school, Ming Haofeng and Wen Yue had reflected upon their actions throughout his childhood. They both acknowledged the fact that they hadn't been good parents. The Xiao family had given Ming Shu the love that he'd badly needed as a child.
On the one hand, Ming Haofeng was grateful to the Xiao family for that. On the other hand, he had a hard time making peace with the fact that another family had stood in for him in his only son's life. And that discontent only intensified every time Ming Shu spoke of his 'gege'.
It left Ming Haofeng feeling like the blood of his own family had been stolen away by another.
He had already done his best to understand Ming Shu, to make up for his past failures and mistakes. But Ming Shu didn't appreciate any of those efforts. He continued to fill his life with Xiao Yu'an.
"University of Public Security? What nonsense is that?" Ming Haofeng exploded, unable to contain his anger any longer. "I've paved this road for you. Don't even think about straying from the path!"
Ming Shu looked askance at the man in front of him. This was a man who almost never smiled.
When Ming Shu was little, he'd been afraid of this man. When he grew a little older, he'd hated this man.
But now, the fear was gone. The hatred had also diminished.
He couldn't even be bothered to argue with Ming Haofeng. He only let out a short, cold laugh. "I'm not only thinking about it. I'm going to do it. I'm already doing it."
"Didn't my teacher show you my test results? I improved my rank by over a hundred places. Do you think I'm dedicating myself to my studies, neglecting food and sleep for my grades, in order to study abroad?" Ming Shu quirked the corners of his lips with every word he spoke. "I'm doing all this to catch up to Xiao Yu'an."
After saying that, Ming Shu took one look at Ming Haofeng's ashen face and impatiently waved a hand. "I'm going to study now."
Wen Yue had prepared several dishes at home. When she heard a noise at the front door, she came out with a smile. But it was only Ming Haofeng who returned, alone.
The smile on her face instantly dimmed.
Dinner tasted like wax on her tongue. After listening to Ming Haofeng recount his conversation with Ming Shu, she fell deep into thought for a long while. "Next time, we'll talk to him properly about it. He's all grown up now. He should know that we want what's best for him."
"He copies everything that boy from the Xiao family does. Who knows what kind of nonsense Xiao Yu'an has been feeding into his brain!" Ming Haofeng raged, still feeling indignant. "No, I definitely won't allow him to become a police officer. If he can't tear himself away from Xiao Yu'an now, he'll be even worse after he becomes a cop. They would be together every day. How can we let that happen?"
Wen Yue suddenly shuddered. Her face turned a pale, ghastly white.
Ming Haofeng glanced at her. "What's the matter with you?"
Wen Yue forced herself to smile. "It's nothing. I'm going for a walk."
It was the beginning of autumn, and the temperature outdoors was still very high. The breeze felt like fire against her cheeks. Wen Yue held the leash of the poodle they were raising and walked down the street in a daze.
Just now, over dinner, she'd thought of a horrifying possibility. A possibility that neither she nor Ming Haofeng could accept—
The possibility that Ming Shu was gay. That Ming Shu liked Xiao Yu'an.
How else could she explain Ming Shu's fierce objections to their plans for him?
Back when Ming Shu was in elementary school, Wen Yue had transferred him away. She'd planned on sending him abroad after he graduated from elementary school. Ming Shu had been determined to return to Xiao Yu'an, even if it meant running away from home.
In the past five years, Ming Shu had steadfastly chased after Xiao Yu'an. He never visited Wen Yue over his breaks from school; he only ever ran to Xiao Yu'an.
Now, he had officially declared his intent to attend the University of Public Security and become a police officer. Just like Xiao Yu'an.
Ming Haofeng couldn't fathom such a thing, but Wen Yue could. Was Ming Shu really doing all this out of pure admiration for Xiao Yu'an? Was it only because he'd always considered Xiao Yu'an his gege and his role model?
Wen Yue didn't dare follow that train of thought too far. She forced herself to erase the possibility from her mind.
But once a thought like that appeared, it was difficult to completely dispel it.
She clutched the dog's leash tightly. Her wrist trembled.
Could Ming Shu really be a homosexual?
Shortly after National Day, Ming Shu's eighteen birthday arrived. His cell phone started ringing and didn't stop all day. An endless stream of calls from people wishing him a happy birthday came in. Wen Yue called him as well, saying she'd made a reservation at a high-end restaurant for them. She offered to pick him up after school.
Ming Shu didn't actually want to go out of his way to deliberately humiliate Wen Yue, but Ming-ge was just too popular. Du Hao had invited him out for a birthday dinner a long time ago. They planned on going to a barbecue place near First High. They could go and get back quickly, and Ming Shu could continue studying after dinner.
"Then…" Wen Yue tried again. "Let's reschedule for the weekend."
"Let's just forget it," Ming Shu said. "I only have half a day off over the weekend, and I want to sleep in."
For third-year high school students, there was nothing more important than studying and rest. Wen Yue couldn't exactly protest. But before hanging up, she suddenly blurted out, "Have you been in contact with Xiao Yu'an lately?"
Ming Shu furrowed his brow, and his tone instantly grew colder. "Did something happen?"
The rejection he'd received had already become his motivation. That wasn't the reason for his displeasure now. He was only unhappy because he didn't want to talk to Wen Yue about Xiao Yu'an. Ming Shu knew exactly who Wen Yue and Ming Haofeng hated and feared.
"It's nothing," Wen Yue hastily answered, somewhat embarrassed. "Then, you and your classmates have a good time, and…"
Ming Shu didn't bother listening to the rest of her words. He set his phone aside. But he didn't hang up right away either. He waited for her to hang up first before putting his phone away.
Du Hao had once told him, "If it were me, I would just hang up. Why bother helping her save face?"
Sometimes, Ming Shu didn't know what was wrong with him. He didn't know why he was so gentle. Was it out of common courtesy? Or was it unbearable to him to hurt the other party?
Xiao Jincheng always used to tease him for being so sensitive.
How long ago had that been? Being too sensitive to the feelings of others was exhausting sometimes, but Ming Shu still thought it was better than being completely insensitive.
If he were completely heartless, what kind of person would he be?
As third years, Ming Shu and his friends couldn't possibly get too rowdy over dinner. Their evening study session started at seven, so they went out to eat at five. At 6:55, they finally rushed back to their respective classrooms.
The barbecue restaurant was extremely noisy. It wasn't until Ming Shu returned to his classroom that he saw three missed calls on his phone.
He used to have Xiao Yu'an in his phone as 'Gege', but when he'd been at the airport, leaving the capital, he'd changed the contact name to 'Xiao Yu'an'.
That had felt almost like a mysterious sort of ceremony. At that moment, Xiao Yu'an stopped being his gege. He became the person Ming Shu wanted to claim as his own.
The bell for the evening class rang. A few boys who were nearly late sprinted into the classroom at the last second, nearly colliding with Ming Shu, who was rushing out with his cell phone.
"Ming-ge, time for class!"
"It's Ming-ge's birthday today."
"Hah? Ming-ge has been working so hard for two months. Why's he skipping evening study now?"
Those last judgmental words came from the math rep with the bowl cut.
Ming Shu ran out to the balcony of that floor. Although the cool autumn wind blew directly at him, his face and his heart burned like they were on fire.
He'd actually been waiting for this call since yesterday.
He gripped his cell phone tightly and listened to the mechanical, automated voice that sounded out when he called back. His heart pounded wildly in his chest.
This voice was extremely familiar to him. Calls to Xiao Yu'an often didn't go through. Sometimes, even when Ming Shu knew Xiao Yu'an was out on a mission without his cell phone, he still wouldn't be able to resist the urge to call.
Ming Shu wasn't left waiting for long this time, but he was too nervous. He was too excited. He felt like the wait was agonizingly long.
Since returning from the capital, Ming Shu had only sent Xiao Yu'an a text to let him know he got home safely. Afterwards, he didn't contact Xiao Yu'an at all. With how busy he was as a third year, two months passed in the blink of an eye. He missed Xiao Yu'an's voice more than he could bear.
"Hey—" A deep, low greeting came through. That familiar, masculine voice was like an electric current, shooting down Ming Shu's spine.
"Ge!" Ming Shu answered hastily, almost comically fast. "I was just having barbecue with Du Hao and the others. I didn't hear my phone."
Xiao Yu'an laughed softly. "I figured. The place across the street from First High?"
"Mm." The palms of Ming Shu's hands were sweating. He wiped them on the leg of his pants. "Ge, what were you doing? Why did it take you so long to answer?"
Xiao Yu'an didn't fully understand the question at first. "I answered after the first ring or so. It was two rings, at most."
It was only then that Ming Shu realized his own perception of time had been totally warped. Not much time had passed at all between him calling and Xiao Yu'an picking up. It had only felt like an eternity to him.
Ming Shu grabbed hold of the balcony railing, which had been chilled by the wind. He almost wanted to press his burning face to the railing to cool himself down. All the adrenaline and anxiety flowed out of him in an instant, leaving his voice a little softer and weaker when he called out, "Ge…"
"Happy birthday," Xiao Yu'an said. "Eighteen."
Ming Shu curved his lips into a smile. "Thank you, ge."
"I sent you a present. It should be delivered today," Xiao Yu'an said. "Go see if you like it after your evening classes."
Every year on his birthday, Ming Shu would receive a present from Xiao Yu'an. But this time was different. It was special. Eighteen was a significant year to begin with, and the friction of Ming Shu's confession and Xiao Yu'an's rejection still existed between them.
Ming Shu had started to think Xiao Yu'an wouldn't send him a present that year.
"What is it?" Ming Shu asked, brimming over with excitement.
"You'll know when you see it," Xiao Yu'an said. "Are you taking the night off to play?"
"No!" Ming Shu denied hastily. How could a third year take a night off so easily? He quickly explained, "We came right back after eating. We didn't waste a single minute."
"Really? Not even a single minute?" Xiao Yu'an prompted.
"Ah!" Ming Shu suddenly exclaimed as realization struck. With this call, he hadn't just wasted one minute. How long ago had the bell rang?!
"Go back to class," Xiao Yu'an said. "This has been a long minute."
Ming Shu couldn't bring myself to hang up. He was overwhelmed by his turbulent emotions, and he couldn't contain them all. He blurted out, "Ge, I've already decided. Next year, I'm going to get into the college you went to. Wherever you are, there's where I'll go. Your missions will be my missions too.
"Don't try to stop me. I won't listen. I said I'm going to pursue you, and I meant it in every sense of the word. I… I… I'll definitely catch you!"
The sound of Xiao Yu'an's breathing came through from the other end of the line. It sounded like he wanted to say something.
But Ming Shu didn't give him the chance. He quickly continued, "Ge, just treat this as my birthday wish, okay? It's bad luck to rain on my parade now, when I'm making a birthday wish. I've said everything I want to say, so I'm going back to study now. Ge, goodbye!"
As soon as the last word fell from his lips, Ming Shu panickedly hung up. He was still terrified that Xiao Yu'an might shut him down.
He knew perfectly well that another rejection from Xiao Yu'an would make him miserable for a very long time.
A splash of cold water from Xiao Yu'an wouldn't extinguish those deep-seated feelings of his. Before long, Ming Shu would recover and continue his pursuit.
But nobody liked being doused in cold water.
He wouldn't hang up on Wen Yue, but he did hang up on Xiao Yu'an. He turned his back to the purple-blue shades of the sunset, drew a deep breath into his lungs, then bolted back into his classroom.
The gift Xiao Yu'an had sent was a tailored suit, perfectly fitted to the contours of Ming Shu's body.
Ming Shu put it on and stared at himself in the mirror for a long while. His head grew hot with an idea that wouldn't let go of him; he sank down to one knee, as those to propose.
But he didn't hold that pose for long. He hurriedly jumped up, feeling embarrassed and ashamed. His face burned a deep, crimson red.
When he visited the capital over summer break, he'd insisted on trying on Xiao Yu'an's suit. But he was a little shorter than Xiao Yu'an, and his body wasn't as broad as that of a grown man. He couldn't fill out the suit.
Xiao Yu'an had brought him to a tailor's shop to have his measurements taken. Then, with everything that happened afterwards, Ming Shu had forgotten all about the suit.
But Xiao Yu'an didn't forget.
This chapter has an extra.
Here's a little theater from Ming Shu's little dumpling days—
As a little kid, Ming Shu was the sensitive and caring sort who always obediently accepted his punishment when he did something wrong. But he was afraid of pain.
Whenever he caused trouble at school, he would come home and find the bamboo stick Grandpa Xiao used to scare Xiao Jincheng. Then he would wrap the head of the stick up in lots and lots of cotton, until it looked like a stick of cotton candy.
After that, he would offer the stick to Xiao Yu'an.
"Gege, I did something bad. You can hit my hand."
Xiao Yu'an would stare, speechless. Could this fluffy thing still be called a bamboo stick?
Ming Shu rubbed his own hand. "I know you have to have your hand hit when you do something wrong, but I'm afraid of pain. Gege, just use this to hit me."
Xiao Yu'an couldn't help but think—
How the hell was he supposed to do that?
(The extra will continue, but the word count here is limited. This little theater will continue in the author's notes of the next chapter.)