MINT-STAINED SHIRT

Chapter 72

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Xiao Yu'an was the one who usually slept in the bedroom. Ming Shu had been on his best behavior in the month since he started living there. Whenever he came into the bedroom, it was only to fetch some clothes from the closet. He gave the bed a wide berth. This was his first time lying in it since his return.

The bamboo mat beneath him had been chilled by the air conditioning, but Ming Shu stared up at the ceiling for a long while before he realized how cold he felt. He scrambled for the blankets, clumsily dragging them up and wrapping himself in a cocoon.

Xiao Yu'an's scent clung to the covers, but it was very faint. He carried the scent of his shower gel to bed with him every night, and that scent had seeped in day after day, leaving a unique, permanent mark on the sheets.

At first, Ming Shu clutched the covers tightly like an intoxicated person trying to sober up. But he'd only gotten halfway sober before the scent clinging to the blankets seeped into his senses, like a toxin. It once again ignited the needs and desires that had yet to fully subside.

Something, some base instinct, howled and roared from within the flames engulfing Ming Shu's body. He hugged his legs to his chest as tightly as he could, curling into a ball with the covers wrapped around him. He breathed in deeply, greedily, imagining himself in Xiao Yu'an's embrace.

No. No, not just an embrace. That wasn't enough.

He wanted to be possessed.

Ming Shu imagined himself splayed out in that bed with Xiao Yu'an's scent a hundred thousand times stronger around him, filling the air until it was in every breath he took. Until he forgot the scent of anything and everything else.

He imagined giving himself over to Xiao Yu'an, fully and without reservation, letting Xiao Yu'an do anything he pleased with him.

The heat in his body manifested as strength in his grip, compelling him to clutch the covers tighter and tighter, shivering like a starving vagrant.

He buried his head in the pillow and breathed deeply. He was half-conscious, half-delirious. The half of his mind that remained clear-headed laughed at and mocked the other half.

What are you doing? Do you love Xiao Yu'an, or do you just want to do it with him?

Think about what you just said. Aren't you embarrassed? Don't you think you were too shameless?

Ming Shu fiercely shook his head with his face still buried against the pillow. His back arched like a bow. Sweat had already seeped through the thin fabric of his pajamas, but he had no way of calming himself down. It was like everything he'd suppressed over the past month exploded forth now, all at once.

He just wanted Xiao Yu'an, so bad. And he didn't just want a budding relationship that lingered in the hand-holding stage. He wanted to do it with Xiao Yu'an, right now.

That thought gave him a jolt. He suddenly sat up on his knees, scrubbing both hands over his eyes and mumbled to himself, "No, that's not it. I don't…"

He absolutely couldn't admit that such a wild and lascivious thought had popped up in his own mind.

His heart was burning up. Heat coursed through his whole body, spreading from his chest to the extremities of his four limbs. He touched his cheeks, only to tear his hands away as though he'd been burned.

This unbridled desire left him feeling more ashamed than he'd thought possible. He couldn't help but think that he shouldn't be like this.

He'd clearly drawn up a plan. Why had he suddenly lost control? How had he become a lustful beast who couldn't think of anything but sex?

Of course he wanted to do it with Xiao Yu'an. But he wanted to do a lot more than just that!

His mind was a mess. Memories of what had transpired in the living room just now drifted back to the forefront of his mind, and he nearly screamed his frustration into the pillow.

He didn't even dare think about what he'd just said. How had he been so shameless? Why had he become like a wild dog in rut?

No wonder Xiao Yu'an had shut him up in here.

Some of what Ming Shu said had come from the bottom of his heart, from the pit of his stomach. He'd meant all those words; they couldn't have been truer. But weren't those the things he was supposed to keep bottled up? In his heart, in his gut?

Those words, blurted out so suddenly, were tinged with blood. They were inappropriate. Shameful.

A muffled sob finally broke past Ming Shu's lips. He couldn't choke it down any longer.

He didn't actually have enough confidence to climb into Xiao Yu'an's lap and not feel any shame.

Lots of people had confessed to him when he was in high school, but he'd never dated anyone. He was completely inexperienced, like a newly hatched chick. How was he supposed to know how to seduce someone? In that moment, with his total loss of control, he'd impulsively straddled Xiao Yu'an's legs and said all those filthy things while his hands tried to creep lower and lower—

If that wasn't shameful, what was it?

Shamed and disgraced, Ming Shu tossed and turned endlessly. No matter where he lay, he felt like he was burning up.

He definitely wouldn't be able to fall asleep. But he was too embarrassed to go back outside.

He couldn't look at Xiao Yu'an right now.

He would die of embarrassment.

 

Xiao Yu'an wanted to give Ming Shu some time alone to calm down, but Xiao Yu'an himself wasn't as unaffected as he'd led Ming Shu to believe.

It wasn't that he didn't have a physical reaction when Ming Shu rubbed against him. He was an ordinary man, not a monk or saint. He'd simply always had a clear plan for his life. Since he was busy with work, he'd put off any sort of love life.

But physical needs and emotional ones weren't the same thing. He could choose not to date, to not keep a partner at his side. But he wasn't a lump of wood. With Ming Shu riling him up like that, it would have been impossible for Xiao Yu'an to claim he didn't feel anything at all.

Giving Ming Shu the time to calm down also meant giving himself the time to think about this matter.

Ming Shu had already confessed to him a year ago, and now he'd made his feelings clear again. Last year, because of Ming Shu's upcoming college entrance exams, they hadn't been able to have a serious talk. This year, there were no looming exams.

Did that mean Xiao Yu'an could ruthlessly scold him and reject him now? Could he mercilessly push him away?

It seemed he couldn't.

Ming Shu wasn't just anyone. Xiao Yu'an couldn't bring himself to treat Ming Shu the way he treated anyone else.

He knew better than anyone how sensitive Ming Shu could be. By making a move on him, Ming Shu had thrown caution to the wind. He'd placed his young heart in Xiao Yu'an's hands, and there was no way Xiao Yu'an could carelessly toss him aside.

But letting Ming Shu pursue him… that, for now, was also something Xiao Yu'an couldn't allow himself to do.

He still saw Ming Shu as his didi. A gege could spoil his didi and tolerate his didi's little tantrums and bouts of playful brattiness. But this was a didi he'd watched grow up; it was difficult to start thinking of him as a lover.

The watermelon he'd prepared earlier was still on the coffee table. Nobody had touched it. Xiao Yu'an closed his eyes and sat on the couch for a while, then got up and took the watermelon into the kitchen. If no one ate it tonight, it would go bad by morning. But Xiao Yu'an didn't have any appetite, and he knew Ming Shu wouldn't come out in the middle of the night for a snack. He would have to throw it out.

 

When Ming Shu saw the light under the bedroom door disappear, he reached for his cell phone and checked the time. It was already past midnight.

He was still restless, still panicking. He kept telling himself that everything would be fine after he slept, that he just needed to fall asleep, but he only managed to repeat that to himself again and again until he watched the sun start to rise through the curtains.

He crept out of the bedroom quietly and found Xiao Yu'an sleeping on the couch.

Ming Shu usually rose at that time of morning, reinvigorated and ready for the day. But today, he got up with a pair of huge, dark bags under his eyes.

A single word suddenly popped into his mind:

Overindulgence.

But he instantly shook his head and sourly thought, How could I have overindulged? I haven't indulged in anything.

Xiao Yu'an heard when Ming Shu came out of the bedroom, but he didn't move. He remained motionless until Ming Shu opened the front door at 5:47 AM and headed out for his shift at the convenience store.

 

As soon as Xiao Yu'an arrived at work that day, a curious, concerned gaze fell upon him.

Xiao Yu'an, as an officer who'd carried out numerous live-combat missions, was particularly sensitive to these sorts of things. Without even looking, he knew Yi Zhuo was staring at him.

"If you have something to say, just say it," Xiao Yu'an said as he changed into his uniform.

They didn't have any special cases or new missions on their hands yet, and ordinary police tasks never fell upon their shoulders. Most of their days were taken up by training. Xiao Yu'an planned on visiting the shooting range that day. He was going to be leading a special training course for the local police next week, and he had to prepare in advance.

Yi Zhuo immediately sidled up to him. He looked as eager as a shady merchant getting ready to sell his wares.

"That cat tower. How's it working out for you?"

"You're asking me?" Xiao Yu'an retorted.

Yi Zhuo blinked. "What, you want me to ask your cat?"

Xiao Yu'an thought of the cat tower that had been placed next to the couch. He couldn't really comment on how it was working out. There was nobody, and no cat, to use it.

But if he didn't give Yi Zhuo a positive response, that cat lover definitely wouldn't stop his machinations. Xiao Yu'an ultimately answered, "It's fine. Thanks."

Unexpectedly, Yi Zhuo's follow-up customer service skills were exhaustive. He continued, "How many times did your cat climb it? Did your cat like it?"

"He…" Xiao Yu'an wanted to brush those questions away, but his brusque dismissal faltered on his lips.

Yesterday, the cat tower had just stood there, lonely and untouched. His shorthair cat had used him as a climbing post instead. And after climbing onto him, that cat had refused to get down like his life depended on staying right there.

How many times did his cat climb? Just once.

As for whether or not his cat liked it… he'd like it almost too much.

Of course, Xiao Yu'an couldn't say any of those things to an outsider. He glanced over at Yi Zhuo and deflected, "Captain Shen was looking for you this morning. Aren't you going to ask him what he needs?"

Captain Shen was their division's vice captain. He'd accepted this post after retiring from the front lines of a special operations team, and he was as strict and severe as one of the kings of hell. As soon as Yi Zhuo heard Captain Shen was looking for him, he ran off.

Xiao Yu'an went to the shooting range with a few of his other teammates. He couldn't get his head in the right place. He couldn't concentrate. Even after a few rounds, he was still thinking of his shorthair cat and that cat tower by the couch.

Normally, Xiao Yu'an was the first to get into the zone during any training session. After a few bad rounds, his teammates had even started to notice that something was wrong.

"I'll take a break," Xiao Yu'an said, taking off his goggles and moving into the rest area to watch his teammates practice.

 

Xiao Yu'an had at least managed to get some sleep. Ming Shu had been restless all night. When he reported in for work, he was starting to feel down and listless. A customer close to him in age came in to buy condoms that morning, and Ming Shu's hand trembled while scanning the barcode. The tremor was so intense that he dropped the box on the counter.

It wasn't that big of a deal. It wasn't like he'd dropped it on the floor. Ming Shu picked the box back up, scanned the barcode properly, and that was that. But the customer was irritatingly chatty, and he instantly got all buddy-buddy with Ming Shu.

"What's the matter, buddy? Never touched a condom before? What're you getting all shaky for?"

Ming Shu was tall, nearly 1.85 meters already. His facial features had matured and become polished over the years. He was beautiful, but he could be fierce and aggressive as well.

When his cold gaze raked over the chatty customer, the customer jumped and shivered with fear. After that initial jolt of alarm, the customer seemed to think his reaction had been too cowardly. He instantly worked himself into a fit, as though to save face.

"Where's the manager? Manager, get out here! I want to have a few words with you. What kind of part-timer are you hiring? The sort that glares when you crack a joke? If I didn't know any better, I would think you were running a shady business here!"

And what kind of person was Ming Shu? He'd become Ming-ge in elementary school, and he'd gotten into his fair share of fights in middle school and high school. Hearing this, he was close to putting up his fists.

Luckily, the store manager rushed out just in time and soothed the irate customer with a few polite words.

Ming Shu stayed behind the counter with an unhappy scowl on his face.

"Some customers have a dirty mouth, but you just ignore them. Let them talk," the manager advised him earnestly. He was several years older than Ming Shu, and he'd experienced all this already. He figured there was no harm in calmly giving Ming Shu a few words of advice.

But Ming Shu was barely listening. He hummed his acknowledgement, but it was obvious the manager's words were going in one ear and out the other. Ming Shu's whole face remained displeased.

The manager was both a little annoyed and a little amused. "Are you upset about the condoms? You just graduated from high school. It's nothing out of the ordinary if you haven't used them before. Don't be mad about that, alright?

"How about this? You buy a box of every kind we have in the shop. Take them home, get some practice with them. You'll need to use them sooner or later, right?"

Ming Shu lifted his gaze. The hostility in his eyes had yet to fully dissipate.

"Ai, ai, don't glare at me like that," the manager chided. "I'm your manager, you know. Okay, let's do this. You keep your money. This'll be my gift to you. Really, don't be shy now."

When his shift ended that afternoon, Ming Shu really did leave the convenience store with a bag of condoms. But he didn't let the manager give them away for free; he'd paid for them himself.

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