After a brief but suffocating silence, Wen Yue let out a shrill shriek and lunged at Ming Shu.
Her fears had come true. She couldn't play the part of the gentle, loving mother anymore. She couldn't accept that her only son was gay. She had to beat some sense into Ming Shu!
But Ming Shu had long since stopped being the defenseless child that she could slap around. Forget about Wen Yue. Now, even Ming Haofeng wouldn't have been able to carelessly lift a hand against him.
When he saw Wen Yue lunge at him, Ming Shu deftly stepped aside and swiftly caught both of Wen Yue's wrists. He looked at her coldly, with a hint of pity in his eyes.
Wen Yue's whole body trembled. She wildly twisted and writhed, struggling to pull her wrists free as she cried and screamed, "You… you… you can't be a homosexual!"
"But I am." Ming Shu firmly held Wen Yue's wrists. He lifted his gaze and glanced at Ming Haofeng as he spoke. "I like Xiao Yu'an, and I'm going to apply to the University of Public Security. These things are the same. Whether you approve or not, they won't change. I'm not here to ask for your approval."
Ming Haofeng's voice roared forth like a thunderstorm. "Do you know what you're saying?"
Ming Shu scoffed. "What do you think you can threaten me with?"
He knew perfectly well what these parents were capable of doing to him.
When he was little, he'd already experienced it all. At that time, he'd been totally helpless. He could only hope and wish for his gege to save him. But, back then, his gege was still a child too. His gege's shoulders hadn't been broad enough to support him completely.
But now, Ming Shu was older. Bigger. He was eighteen years old. He was an adult.
He had grown taller than his weeping mother and his raging father. A roaring fire had scorched his heart, burning all his past fears and pains into ash. All that remained, born of that ash, was a brilliant, glittering gem.
When Xiao Jincheng was in junior high, he'd always wandered around reciting cheesy poems. They all spoke of how love was empowering, how love was all-encompassing. Ming Shu hadn't understood back then, but he'd been so grossed out that goosebumps rose all over his arms.
Now, Ming Shu understood. Yearning for another could truly make a person fearless.
Ming Haofeng's face had turned an ashen gray. Blue veins popped out at his temples, like they were close to bursting. "You think long and hard about who you're talking to right now! You think about it before you open your mouth again!"
Ming Shu didn't even take a half step back. He lifted his chin, proud and defiant. "The one who should take a moment to think is you. You plan on locking me up again and sending me overseas. Is that right?"
With his plans thrown out into the open like that, Ming Haofeng's face twisted into an even more unsightly expression. "If you already know all that, how dare you remain so stubborn?!"
"You have no right and no power to do such a thing to me." Ming Shu let out a short laugh. "I know you have a fair amount of authority, but I've made my own preparations. If I don't return to my school today, Xiao Yu'an and Xiao Jincheng will be alerted right away.
"Although Xiao Jincheng hasn't graduated yet, he's already started taking missions with his squadron. Xiao Yu'an… well, I don't need to tell you about Xiao Yu'an, do I? It's against the law to imprison an adult against their will. You… you…"
As he spoke, Ming Shu swept his gaze over Wen Yue. "I would advise you not to knowingly break the law."
Wen Yue had been released from Ming Shu's hold. She fell back into a chair, staring at Ming Shu with an empty, vacant look in her eyes.
Her child… her child had come prepared! He would never again be the child she abandoned at a boarding school. He would never again be the child Ming Haofeng locked up in a room.
Ming Shu had always rebelled against them, but he'd never had enough power to truly oppose them. But now, he could rebel with the force of a grown man.
"Little… Little Shu." Wen Yue reached out, wanting to pull Ming Shu back to her.
Ming Shu stepped away. "I've said everything I came here to say. As for your thoughts and opinions, I don't want to hear it. And I won't accept it."
"You think you can spread your wings and fly now? You dare speak to your father like this?" Ming Haofeng took a wide step forward and grabbed Ming Shu's collar with one hand.
Wen Yue shrieked again, but Ming Shu only leveled a calm look at his own father. He calmly spat out two words:
Of course, Ming Haofeng didn't release him.
Ming Shu gripped his father's hand. Because Ming Haofeng was holding onto him with so much force, the shape of his bones were protruding from his wrist and the back of his hand.
The two men grappled in silence while Wen Yue sobbed beside them.
Ming Haofeng was strong. By the time Ming Shu broke free, his own hands were numb and the collar of his shirt had been torn open.
"I've said everything I came to say," Ming Shu repeated. He picked up the backpack he'd tossed onto a chair and flung it over his shoulder. "I'm leaving."
"Freeze!" Ming Haofeng bellowed. "If you walk out of this house today, don't you ever think about coming back!"
Wen Yue frantically shook her head in obvious agony. "No!"
Ming Shu felt as though he'd heard a funny joke. He turned, only halfway, and asked, "Do you think I want to come back? When have I ever wanted to come back? When did I ever choose to come back, without being forced by you?
"Since you brought it up, I'll make this clear once and for all. Let's make it so that we don't have to argue about this again." Ming Shu steeled his resolve. His expression was firm and unforgiving. The delicate weaknesses of youth were completely erased from his face. "If you accept the fact that I'm going to the University of Public Security and the fact that I'm gay, we can continue to maintain our family ties—just as we've been doing these past few years.
"But if you insist on opposing me, then starting today, I won't recognize you as my parents."
Wen Yue covered her mouth with both hands, and Ming Haofeng stared at him in shock.
"I grew tired of being an accessory to your marriage a long time ago," Ming Shu said. His eyes were cold. "The two of you know perfectly well, in your hearts, whether or not you're worthy of being called anyone's parents."
With that, Ming Shu waited no longer. He threw open the door and left.
Du Hao had been waiting impatiently at a coffee shop near the Ming family's house. He gripped his cell phone tightly. His palms were sweating. As soon as he saw Ming Shu, he instantly relaxed. He was so relieved that his eyes rolled back in his head, showing only the whites of his eyeballs for a moment.
Ming Shu was speechless. "Hey, handsome. How about you pay attention to what kind of face you're making?"
"I was worried, okay?!" Du Hao hastily blurted out. "I was afraid they would really send you away! If you didn't come out soon, I was about to call Jincheng-ge!"
"It's fine now." Ming Shu ordered a mint-flavored milkshake and gulped down half of it in one go. "Everything's fine. I've taken care of it."
Du Hao was still up to his ears in worry. "They were just taken by surprise. They're definitely not going to let this go so easily. Once Ming Haofeng gets over the shock and properly reacts, there'll be hell to pay."
"I'm not afraid." Ming Shu sat and stretched out his long legs. "I had to take this step sooner or later. I couldn't cower in their presence forever."
The coffee shop's tables were a bit narrow. When Ming Shu stretched out, his own shoes bumped into Du Hao's white sneakers. Du Hao instantly shrank back and patted the smudges away. "Oh, now that you're all brave, you're here to torment me?"
Ming Shu gave him a look, then laughed. He stood up and reached over to tousle Du Hao's hair, until Du Hao shouted for mercy.
"I'll have to trouble you for a while longer," Ming Shu said. "If I suddenly go missing, you have to call my ge and Xiao Jincheng right away."
"Don't worry. I'm your bro. I'll always be there for you."
The relationship between Ming Shu and his family became like a thread, pulled taut to the point of snapping. But from that day to the end of Ming Shu's college entrance exams, Ming Haofeng and Wen Yue didn't make a move.
On the day before his entrance exams, Ming Shu received a call from Xiao Yu'an.
"I'm ready." Ming Shu was nervous, but he didn't want to show Xiao Yu'an even a tiny hint of his nerves. "Ge, if I get my acceptance letter, can I go see you?"
Xiao Yu'an had called to encourage Ming Shu, and he'd only said good, positive things. College entrance exams were a big deal. As Ming Shu's guardian, he felt immensely perplexed that he couldn't go back to be with Ming Shu during this time.
Ming Shu hadn't brought up his feelings in nearly a year, and Xiao Yu'an didn't bring it up either. They were at a critical juncture now. They could resolve everything else after Ming Shu's exams.
"Whether or not you get your acceptance letter, you can come to me," Xiao Yu'an said warmly. "Relax. Set your mind at ease. Prepare your pencils and test permit in advance."
Although Ming Shu acted calm, his heart had started beating faster the second he heard Xiao Yu'an's voice. He closed his eyes and imagined that Xiao Yu'an was sitting next to him. His deep, steady voice was like a pair of hands, softly caressing his ears.
"I'll definitely get my acceptance letter," Ming Shu breathed. He couldn't dwell on this for too long. He took a deep breath, then continued in the most energetic voice he could muster, "Ge, I'm going to go study some more. Wish me luck again."
Xiao Yu'an obliged. "Here's to good results for our Ming-ge."
"No, not like that," Ming Shu said. "Ge, you have to say—here's to Ming Shu, getting into the University of Public Security."
Xiao Yu'an hesitated for a moment.
When Ming Shu didn't hear him make a peep, he boldly urged, "Ge—"
Xiao Yu'an sighed. That was the 'privilege' of a college entrance exams student. Xiao Yu'an had to indulge him.
"Here's to our Ming-ge, getting into the University of Public Security."
"Good!" Ming Shu grinned with satisfaction. "Okay, then I'm going to study. Wait for my good news."
Under the scorching summer sun, a fierce battle began.
When the results came out, Ming Shu finally let out a breath of relief. All through his third year of high school, he'd never once taken a step backwards. He'd kept advancing and advancing, and his final scores alone were enough for him to apply to the University of Public Security.
But the threatening storm that had lingered on the horizon all this time finally descended upon the Ming family.
Ming Haofeng was fiercely stubborn and unyielding. He absolutely wouldn't allow Ming Shu to attend the University of Public Security. He and Wen Yue had already set out a path for Ming Shu. In less than half a month, Ming Shu would be sent abroad.
But Ming Shu was just as unyielding. He stood his ground like a tall, strong pine tree. "Do you really think you can send me away?"
Ming Haofeng sneered. "Your little tricks can't stop me! Xiao Yu'an has no right to interfere in the way I raise my own son!"
"I'm no longer your son," Ming Shu responded coldly. "The two of you aren't my parents."
"Don't threaten me with talk of cutting all ties!" Ming Haofeng roared. "I don't give a damn what you think of me, but don't you dare even think about running off with a man!"
"Then let's wait and see," Ming Shu said. "Xiao Yu'an and Xiao Jincheng will soon learn you're detaining me against my will."
"So what if they know! This is the Ming family's business!"
"That's enough!" Ming Han, who had remained silent until then, suddenly slammed his cane against the floor. "These are our private family matters, and you want the Xiao family to get involved? Have you no shame?"
Ming Shu looked towards the weakening old man. He suddenly came to a realization.
This time, his grandfather would stand with him.
Ming Han was an extremely stubborn and inflexible old man. He was a product of his time. He nearly never smiled, and he was extremely strict with the younger generation. But Ming Shu couldn't deny that this man had raised him. Shortly before sixth grade, when Ming Shu ran away from home, Ming Haofeng and Wen Yue had still planned on sending him overseas. It was Ming Shu's grandfather who'd stopped them.
There weren't many strong emotions between Ming Shu and his grandfather, but there was an undeniable bond between them, born of Ming Han raising Ming Shu for the boy's whole life.
"Father," Ming Haofeng started. "What are you saying?"
Ming Han opened his murky eyes. "He's an adult. Let him make his own decisions."
With his own father speaking up, Ming Haofeng could only fight to restrain his anger.
Ming Han turned to Ming Shu. His tone was still one of disinterest, tinged with some irritation. "Take care of your private family matters privately, behind closed doors. Don't seek help from the Xiao family at every turn. Our Ming family didn't raise a child like that."
In just a few words, Ming Han had scolded both generations of his descendants. Ming Shu was stunned for a moment before he realized he could finally leave this house, this family. This was a matter of the Ming family, and the resolution was rough and cruel, but it was exactly what Ming Shu wanted—
He would no longer be a child of the Ming family, and the Ming family would have no right to control his life.
In the early hours of morning, Xiao Yu'an returned home from a mission. As he made his way back to his little neighborhood, he remembered he'd run out of drinking water at home. He stopped by a convenience store to pick some up.
A young man in the shop's uniform was carrying a crate of water. He accidentally bumped into Xiao Yu'an. When their gazes met, Xiao Yu'an's eyes were filled with shock, while the young man's eyes filled up with joy.
"Ge!" Ming Shu exclaimed.