The suit had been delivered to Xiao Yu'an in mid-September, but he'd deliberated for a long time over whether or not he should send it to Ming Shu as a coming-of-age present.
He'd ordered the suit before Ming Shu confessed his feelings for him. At that time, Xiao Yu'an still considered Ming Shu his didi.
In the past, whenever anyone confessed to Xiao Yu'an, he would reject them firmly and put some distance between them.
That may have seemed heartless to some people, but Xiao Yu'an had always felt it would be wrong to muddy the waters if he didn't reciprocate the feelings offered to him. It would only be giving the other party false hope.
Now, the other party was Ming Shu. In order to increase the distance between them, Xiao Yu'an shouldn't have sent him the suit.
But Ming Shu wasn't someone that Xiao Yu'an could freely distance himself from. He cared about Ming Shu. He had to watch over him. Their relationship wouldn't end after Xiao Yu'an rejected Ming Shu's feelings.
Their relationship couldn't end.
Ming Shu had been his responsibility in the past, and Ming Shu would be his responsibility in the future.
After Ming Shu went home, Xiao Yu'an wanted to call him several times. But in the end, he gave up on that urge. He'd lived for more than twenty years, and he had never once felt so torn.
Boys at Ming Shu's age were both arrogant and fragile. They could make a big deal out of any little thing and dwell on it for ages. Plus, Ming Shu was a third year in high school now. Third years couldn't be subjected to even the slightest bit of external provocation.
The conversation they had on that rainy night… Xiao Yu'an actually regretted it. Thinking back, he felt he'd acted too rashly. He'd been in too much of a hurry. Ming Shu hadn't outright confessed to him, and he wouldn't have spent the next year with Xiao Yu'an anyway. Why did Xiao Yu'an have to push him to reveal everything right before he entered his critical third year of high school?
But the fact of the matter was that Xiao Yu'an had pushed, and the issue had been left unresolved. Wouldn't Ming Shu now feel just as torn as Xiao Yu'an?
After mulling it over for a long time, Xiao Yu'an decided to mail out the suit before Ming Shu's birthday after all. It would be the present for his eighteenth birthday.
Turning eighteen was an all-important thing, and Xiao Yu'an understood Ming Shu better than anyone. If this kid didn't receive a gift and birthday wishes from Xiao Yu'an on his eighteenth birthday, he would be beyond miserable.
And to Xiao Yu'an, not offering his best wishes on Ming Shu's coming-of-age birthday would have been a great pity.
He would gift this suit to Ming Shu as his older brother. If Ming Shu's mind had to spin this into something else, something with a different meaning… there was nothing much that Xiao Yu'an could do about that.
Xiao Yu'an could only do what any parent with a third year in high school would do. College entrance exams were coming up. Xiao Yu'an had to do everything in his power to create a stress-free environment for Ming Shu, to ensure he had peace during this critical third year.
As for the unresolved matter between them, it would have to wait. They would have to talk about it again later, after Ming Shu passed the immense challenge of his college entrance exams.
Ming Shu didn't tell anyone that he'd gotten a suit. After checking himself out in the mirror, he took the suit off and carefully hung it up in his closet. Then he settled down and studied for the next three hours with his heart perfectly at peace.
It was late at night now. Outside, all was calm and quiet. The lamp on his desk reflected the lights that bled in through the window, sparking a glow like starlight in the dark pupils of Ming Shu's eyes.
When he reached the last practice problem, Ming Shu lifted his head and looked at his own shadow in the window. He suddenly felt a sense of disbelief.
He never imagined he could be so calm.
Today was his eighteenth birthday, and he'd received a coming-of-age present from Xiao Yu'an. A tailored suit.
He mentally sorted his presents into groups. All his previous birthday presents had come from his gege. But this gift, for his eighteenth birthday, was from Xiao Yu'an.
After receiving a gift from the person he liked, how could he still calmly sit and do his homework without feeling the slightest bit distracted?
A moment later, he covered his eyes with both hands and let out a silent laugh. His shoulders shook with the force of it.
Xiao Yu'an, you've encouraged me to pursue you.
So I'm coming. You just wait for me to get into your university first.
Wait for me!
That was what ran through Ming Shu's head.
The finals of the first school term for third years was officially called Mock Exam 1. In their second term, in the months of March and May, they would take Mock Exam 2 and Mock Exam 3.
After the last test of Mock Exam 1, the bowl cut math rep rushed over to Ming Shu to compare their answers. Worriedly, he asked, "Ming-ge, how did you do?"
For the first half of the school year, Ming Shu had often attended self-study with the bowl cut math rep and the other studious kids. Ming Shu's math and physics scores rose with every test he took. The bowl cut math rep was happy for him, of course.
But the mock exams weren't anything like the monthly tests they took. The mock exams were comprehensive, and doing well on the monthly tests didn't guarantee a good score on the mock exams too.
"I did alright, I guess," Ming Shu answered. He picked up his pencil pouch and cast a cursory glance at the math rep. "You didn't do so well? Your face is wrinkled up like a used cleaning rag."
The math rep let out a huge sigh. "I'm worried about you, aren't I? Let's compare our answers. If you went wrong somewhere, I'll help analyze your mistakes right away. You'll feel better that way."
Ming Shu laughed.
He actually felt pretty good about his results already. He'd done everything he could do to prepare. Some things were just beyond him, and he didn't worry about what he couldn't accomplish. He would give himself another push over winter break, and Mock Exam 2 wouldn't be any problem after that.
Besides language, he could pretty much estimate his score in every other subject.
Estimating his score was something he'd learned from Xiao Yu'an.
When Xiao Yu'an started high school, Ming Shu had still been in elementary school. He thought his gege was good at literally everything he did. After taking a test, Xiao Yu'an could always tell approximately how well he'd scored.
"Gege, you're amazing," Ming Shu declared with wonderment and awe in his tone.
"It's nothing." Xiao Yu'an smiled. "When you get to high school, you'll know how to do this too."
A few days after Ming Shu's first official mock exam, their scores came out. After the bowl cut math rep looked over his own scores, he checked Ming Shu's results and jumped with surprise.
"Your guess was pretty much right!"
"I told you I did alright." Ming Shu smiled and gave the bowl cut a pat on the shoulder. "Thanks, anyway. You helped me with a lot of practice problems last term."
The math rep wasn't good at receiving praise. He got embarrassed right away. "We're classmates, it's no big deal!"
Xiao Yu'an and Xiao Mu'ting didn't come home for New Year's. Rumor had it they weren't even in the country; no one in the Xiao family could contact them.
Ming Shu knew Xiao Yu'an was carrying out a mission. He spent all of New Year's worrying about Xiao Yu'an. He wasn't afraid of much these days, but he always worried about Xiao Yu'an's safety. But he understood that this was the path Xiao Yu'an had chosen. It was the path Ming Shu would take as well, to chase after Xiao Yu'an.
Just before the start of Ming Shu's next school term, Xiao Yu'an returned to the country and called home to let everyone know he was well. Ming Shu finally calmed his heart and focused on charging through his last four months of high school.
Third-year high school students tended to adopt some mysterious rituals and superstitions. Many of them stuck motivational phrases on their desks or walls.
The bowl cut math rep had written, I believe in me. I'm the best.
Du Hao had written, Let me trade my handsome face for handsome college entrance exam scores.
A piece of paper was taped to Ming Shu's desk as well. He had written a simple, concise message:
Wait for me.
"What's this supposed to mean?" Du Hao asked, clearly baffled. It was perhaps too concise for him. "Who's waiting for you?"
Ming Shu tuned him out and continued working on some calculations on his scratch paper.
Du Hao thought about it for a while, then thought he came to an understanding. "The university is waiting for you? Man, you really know how to be subtle."
Ming Shu thought to himself, I fell in love with my guardian. I have to be subtle.
The sweltering summer finally arrived, and the third years had their last parent-teacher conference of their high school careers. Ming Shu's seat was occupied by Ming Haofeng.
The students had already taken their third mock exam. Ming Shu had improved all throughout his third year, scoring better and better on each test he took. Ming Haofeng had been given Ming Shu's report card and the career aspirations form Ming Shu had filled out.
First High asked students to fill out a career aspirations form every year. The students could put whatever they liked, then their teachers would give them advice based on their test results.
In his bold and aggressive handwriting, Ming Shu had written—
University of Public Security.
Ming Haofeng's brow furrowed deeply at the sight of that declaration. He clenched the sheet of paper so tightly that it started to crinkle and crease.
After the parent-teacher conference, the teachers started to hold one-on-one meetings with each parent.
Ming Haofeng tracked down Ming Shu's homeroom teacher, and the homeroom teacher was thrilled to give him good news.
"Ming Shu worked very hard to bring up his grades and test scores this year, and he had no problem filling out his career aspirations form either. He has his heart set on being a police officer, and I've chatted with him. He'll have no problem pursuing that track with his grades."
"Please advise Ming Shu to change his application," Ming Haofeng said. "He isn't going to the University of Public Security."
The homeroom teacher froze. "What do you mean?"
"His mother and I have already planned out his path in life. We'd like him to study business management. You're his teacher, he'll listen to you."
"That…" The homeroom teacher thought about it for a moment. "I can talk to Ming Shu again about his aspirations. But you should listen to Ming Shu's way of thinking, sir. In your eyes, he's still a child. But Ming Shu is already capable of thinking critically for himself. He's capable of thinking seriously about what he wants to do with his life."
Ever since Ming Shu started high school, Ming Haofeng or Wen Yue had attended every single one of his parent-teacher meetings. Ming Shu's high school homeroom teacher wasn't like his elementary school teacher; she didn't know as much about Ming Shu's troubles at home. But after exchanging just a few words with Ming Haofeng, she got the sense that Ming Shu didn't get along with his parents.
"I will," Ming Haofeng answered brusquely, coldly. "We're his mother and father. We won't do anything to hurt him."
"Ming-ge, what did Jing-jie want to see you about?" Du Hao asked, rushing over when he saw Ming Shu emerge from their homeroom teacher's office.
Ming Shu breathed a short laugh. "Nothing much. She just asked about my aspirations form."
Du Hao was a little baffled by that. "Didn't she already talk to you about that last time? Did your family…"
Ming Shu sighed and gave Du Hao a deeply contemplative look.
This childhood friend of his could be a complete simpleton sometimes. Other times, he could be a complete genius. Du Hao had probably guessed what the problem was as soon as Ming Shu had been called in by the homeroom teacher.
But Du Hao was the only one worried about this. Ming Shu felt perfectly calm and relaxed.
At the start of the school year, Ming Shu had already argued about his career aspirations with Ming Haofeng. Ming Shu had made his intentions perfectly clear. Ming Haofeng hadn't accepted his decision. And they'd parted on bad terms.
Later, no one brought up the matter. They didn't even talk about it over New Year's dinner.
But the questions of what Ming Shu would do with his life and which college he would attend were now looming over them. There was no way to continue avoiding the subject. Now that Ming Haofeng had sent Ming Shu's homeroom teacher to do his dirty work, the conflict had risen to the surface again.
That was fine. Things would get interesting for everyone now.
Although Ming Shu's homeroom teacher had agreed to talk to Ming Shu, she didn't go out of her way to change Ming Shu's mind.
"You can take advice from your parents and your teachers," she said, "but your life is your own. I've given you all the information you need to make your own decisions about your future dreams and career. The rest is up to you. Ming Shu, I believe in your ability to decide what's right for yourself."
On his way out of her office, Ming Shu bowed to her and calmly stated, "Jing-jie, don't worry."
Du Hao was still anxious, watching on from the sidelines of Ming Shu's life. "You want to go to the University of Public Security, and your family wants to send you overseas. What are you going to do?"
"What are you worrying about?" Ming Shu prodded Du Hao's forehead. "Let's go."
"Where to?" Du Hao rubbed a hand over his own head. "You're my brother. How can I not worry?"
Ming Shu slung his backpack over one shoulder. "I'm going back. To resolve this."
Du Hao jumped. "You're going to negotiate with your parents?"
Ming Shu hummed a confirmation at first, but then he changed his mind and shook his head. "Where'd you learn to talk like that? 'Negotiate' implies there's room for compromise. I'm going back to inform them. Inform. Got it?"
Du Hao fell silent.
Fuck! His Ming-ge was way too cool!
Ming Shu had no fondness for launching surprise attacks. He called Wen Yue in advance to let her know he would be visiting. Wen Yue was thrilled and instantly asked what he wanted to eat.
"I'm not staying for dinner," he said. "I'm just coming back to talk about my career aspirations."
The lights in the living room on the first floor were all on, blazingly bright. Ming Shu sat at the dining table with Ming Haofeng and Wen Yue.
Ming Shu would remember that moment for many, many years to come.
He was perfectly calm, and he spoke calmly as well—
"I won't follow the path you set out for me. I'll get into the University of Public Security, and I'll become a police officer.
"I want to follow Xiao Yu'an. I want to take every step he took. Not only because he's an outstanding man.
"But because I love him."
Here's the continuation of the little theater of Ming Shu's little dumpling days—
On TV, Ming Shu saw a man who'd done something wrong. The man was punished by his wife and made to kneel on a washboard.
Ming Shu looked down at his own hands. He'd given his gege the cotton candy bamboo stick earlier, and his gege had lightly rapped his hands twice. It hadn't hurt at all.
If it didn't hurt, it wasn't a real punishment. Ming Shu was an honest boy. He felt like he also deserved to kneel on a washboard.
When Xiao Yu'an returned to his room, he saw Ming Shu kneeling on his bed with a pillow under his knees.
Ming Shu proudly spread his hands. "Gege! I'm punishing myself by kneeling on a washboard!"
Xiao Yu'an stared. "…that's my pillow."
"But the washboard is too hard. I'm only a little kid."
Xiao Yu'an picked Ming Shu up, and Ming Shu pouted. "Gege, I had my hands hit, and I knelt on a washboard. Are you still angry?"
The supposedly angry Xiao Yu'an said nothing.