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During the Snowstorm

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Prologue

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As the indoor lights dimly flickered, the shadows of pedestrians passing outside played a ghostly dance across the glass, lending an otherworldly aura to the scene. The feeble illumination from the window fought to reach the far side of the street, enveloping everything in an eerie half-light. Suddenly, a colossal, pitch-black shadow appeared, descending with a resounding thud onto the roof of a parked car. The car's alarm blared, adding to the noise.


Her friend's voice, laced with panic, broke through the phone's speaker, snapping her back to reality. "What's that noise?


A deafening crash echoed through the streets as a massive tree came crashing down, its branches tearing into a parked car with a loud screech of metal.


A tree just fell and smashed a car," Yin Guo shouted, struggling to hear her friend's voice over the blaring music. She cupped her left ear. "This storm is terrible. Can you believe how freezing it is out here? It's minus 25 degrees!"


"I warned you about New York winters," her friend Zhengyi teased, her voice light. "It snows a ton there. You should've known better."


Yin Guo lacked the energy to even complain anymore; her words escaped as a weary sigh. "I haven't had a shower in three days. You have to help me find a hotel room for tonight."


"Give me a moment; I'm still looking," Zhengyi's voice crackled over the phone. Yin Guo let out a frustrated sigh and ended the call.


As she returned to her cousin Meng Xiaotian's side, she shared the news, "We're just waiting for Zhengyi to find a hotel. She'll message me soon." But her cousin was too engrossed in the festive atmosphere to pay her much mind. He grinned carefreely and replied, "If that doesn't work out, we'll just party here all night."


Yin Guo, however, wasn't feeling the same festive spirit as her cousin. She reclined on the bar counter, staring out of the window, her thoughts consumed by the raging storm outside. She couldn't have predicted encountering the strongest storm in a decade. The wind howled, snow piled up against the windows, and darkness seemed to engulf everything in its path. An unsettling feeling had settled in her stomach, and she couldn't shake it off.


It was undoubtedly one of her most unfortunate moments. First, she found herself seated in the bustling airport terminal, only to hear the announcement that her flight to New York would be delayed by a grueling ten hours. Then, as she boarded the plane and gazed out over the vast expanse of the ocean, a violent storm suddenly materialized. For two harrowing hours, the plane circled the airport, unable to make a safe landing. The hurricane compelled the pilot to reroute the flight to Chicago.


Exhausted and disheartened, she eventually touched down in the Windy City, only to discover that every hotel room was fully booked. This left her stranded, without a place to stay for the night, all due to the airline's inability to arrange accommodation.


As the night wore on, Yin Guo and her cousin found themselves huddled in the dimly lit airport waiting area, surrounded by a diverse group of stranded travelers. With no other options available, they took turns sleeping on uncomfortable plastic chairs and the cold, unforgiving tile floor. The constant hum of conversation and sporadic announcements over the loudspeaker provided the only interruptions to the monotony.


The following morning, they freshened up in the less-than-ideal airport restroom, their spirits lifted by the prospect of finally departing. However, as the day progressed, it became evident that their wait would be longer than expected. They passed the time by reading, striking up conversations with fellow travelers, and observing the comings and goings of airplanes.


As the sun dipped below the horizon, the long-awaited announcement finally came: their flight to New York was boarding. They gathered their belongings and made their way to the gate, their spirits lifting at the prospect of reaching their destination at last.


Touching down in the bustling heart of New York City, Yin Guo and her cousin couldn't help but feel a rush of excitement and relief. After the arduous and tumultuous journey they'd endured, they had finally arrived.


But as soon as the plane came to a stop on the tarmac, their hearts sank when the flight attendant made an announcement. "I'm sorry, folks, but there are no available parking spots, and we won't be able to disembark at the moment," she informed them. Disappointment and frustration swept through the passengers as they absorbed the news that they'd have to wait for the airport to make arrangements.


Yin Guo and her cousin, along with the group of fellow travelers who had spent the night sleeping in the airport, found themselves stuck in limbo once more. They settled back into their seats, unable to shake off their exhaustion, and continued to rest on the plane, eagerly waiting for their ordeal to finally come to an end.


After what seemed like an eternity, Yin Guo was abruptly awakened by the loudspeaker, feeling bleary-eyed and groggy from her extended nap on the plane. She slowly disembarked, her body weighed down by exhaustion.


Once she set foot on solid ground, she sank onto a luggage cart, her mind numb and her body yearning for sleep. She closed her eyes and dozed off once more, only to be abruptly roused by the clatter of her luggage being unloaded from the plane. She stumbled to her feet, collected her bags, and felt her body ache from the long journey and the lack of proper rest.


As she waited for her luggage, a sense of relief washed over her. However, her heart plummeted when her phone rang, delivering the crushing news that her hotel reservation had been canceled due to missing the check-in deadline. Tears welled up in the corners of her eyes as she stood by the arrival gate, overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness and isolation.


Just as she was on the brink of despair, a kind Chinese-American girl who had also spent the night in the Chicago airport approached her, extending a lifeline. She explained that getting a taxi in the heavy snowstorm was nearly impossible and suggested that Yin Guo stay with her temporarily and venture to Manhattan, a much better alternative to remaining at the airport. 

With a spark of hope reigniting within her, Yin Guo gratefully accepted the girl's offer, appreciative of the kindness shown by a stranger in her time of need.


With the assistance of a kind stranger, Yin Guo and her cousin found themselves in the lobby of a lounge bar. Despite the raging snowstorm outside, they were grateful for the warm surroundings, as well as the food and drinks to sustain them.


Suddenly, a blast of icy wind swept through the room as the door swung open behind them. Yin Guo shivered and pulled her down jacket's collar tighter, while her cousin, Meng Xiaotian, bundled up in his coat beside her.


"What a pain in the ass," he grumbled. "Feels like we've landed in some dystopian nightmare." The scene beyond the window did indeed resemble something straight out of a science fiction film.


Yin Guo couldn't help but draw parallels to her favorite disaster movie, "The Day After Tomorrow." It featured frozen renditions of the Statue of Liberty, cruise ships colliding with the sea, and a library becoming a sanctuary. She had watched the film at least 17 or 18 times, never imagining that a real-life disaster would unfold in the very location depicted in the movie. The situation felt surreal, as if they were inhabiting an alternate universe.


The bitter cold bore down upon them, gnawing at their skin and numbing their bones. Yin Guo's phone displayed a temperature of minus 25 degrees Celsius, and with the wind chill, it felt like a bone-chilling minus 40 degrees Celsius. Even bundled up in their thickest down jackets, they struggled to ward off the harsh weather outside.


As they hauled their luggage out of the car, the cold gripped them instantly. Yin Guo positioned her phone in front of Meng Xiaotian, asking him to keep watch for messages from Zheng Yi, their friend who had promised to help. She then pulled the hood of her down jacket over her head and leaned against the bar, closing her eyes to steal a moment of rest.


"It's freezing," Meng Xiaotian grumbled beside her, his breath forming mist in the frigid air.


The scent of roasting chicken wings wafted by, making Yin Guo's stomach growl with hunger. However, she felt too exhausted and cold to budge, her body weighed down by fatigue.


Onstage, the band played an old song with a sweet, melodious melody that evoked memories of summer days and warm sunshine. The lead singer's voice, low and husky, expressed his deep attraction and love for a girl, his soul ensnared and unable to resist her, yet tinged with hesitance and shyness, unsure of how to approach her. The song was "Yellow."


"Sis," Meng Xiaotian called, getting her attention.


"Mm," Yin Guo replied, her voice weak and tired.


Meng Xiaotian patted her arm gently, concern evident on his face. "Xiaoguo, are you okay?"


Summoning the last of her strength, Yin Guo lifted her head and opened her eyes. Through her blurred vision, she saw something unfamiliar—a glass of wine.


The man holding the glass of wine appeared young, dressed in a black, cold-resistant coat and sporting a matching hat. It was tricky to gauge the length of his hair, but it wasn't overly long. His pupils were deep and dark, his skin had a fair complexion, and his face bore a thin, angular appearance. His chin was pointed, and though his nose bridge wasn't as pronounced as that of Europeans or Americans, it still had a decent height. He had an Asian appearance, but it remained uncertain if he was Chinese.


"Please," the man spoke softly and politely.


Yin Guo pushed back her hood, sat up attentively, and was about to respond when another Chinese individual with glasses approached. They set a second glass of wine in front of Meng Xiaotian. "This one's for you."


"I'm sorry for the mix-up," Meng Xiaotian admitted, a touch of embarrassment coloring his voice.


"No need for apologies," the bespectacled man responded, "We're all Chinese in this."


Meng Xiaotian promptly performed the introductions. "Meet my sister, Yin Guo."


Yin Guo couldn't help but wonder how they knew each other, especially since this was Meng Xiaotian's first visit to New York. However, her cousin quickly explained, "When I received your call, they were already seated at the table next to mine. I overheard them speaking Chinese and asked for their recommendations on what kind of wine to try here."


It all made sense to Yin Guo now.


The man with glasses smiled and asked, "Are you two stuck here? The weather isn't exactly ideal for a night out, is it?"


Yin Guo and Meng Xiaotian exchanged a glance, both grasping the unspoken question beneath the man's words. They had three suitcases with them, clearly indicating they were not simply there for a casual drink.


Meng Xiaotian replied, "Yeah, we had a hotel reservation, but it got canceled. We're waiting for a friend to help us find another one."


He added with a casual shrug, "If not, we'll just hang out here until morning. At least we've got food and drinks."


The man with glasses smiled, "He's already called a car for you, so as soon as you confirm a hotel, we'll take you there straight away." The "he" he referred to was the man who had been quiet until now.


"That's great," Meng Xiaotian exclaimed, his relief and gratitude clear.


"Let's discuss the specifics once you've secured a place," the man with glasses said kindly. "If it's early enough, you can follow his car. If not, I'll personally drive you there. This area has excellent subway connections, so we can reach almost anywhere."


Meng Xiaotian raised his glass in a toast. "Thank you so much, brother."


"No need to thank me," the man with glasses clinked glasses with Meng Xiaotian, and the two of them continued chatting happily.


The man at the small round table next to them ordered some snacks and sipped on his drink while watching the band perform.


Unlike her cousin Meng Xiaotian, Yin Guo focused on her own drink, lowering her head to inspect it closely. She twirled the glass in her hands, observing the orange hue and the fruit chunks afloat within. The scent of alcohol was subtle, and she took a small sip, relishing the sweetness that danced on her taste buds.


In contrast, her cousin's drink had a milky white appearance, clearly suited for a man. As she watched him take a sip, she couldn't help but notice a man at the neighboring table casting a curious gaze in her direction. It was as if he were silently inquiring, "Are you afraid there's something in it?"


Feeling self-conscious, Yin Guo pretended to tuck her long hair behind her ear, brushing it off as a casual gesture. But her mind raced, wondering if the man had somehow picked up on her concerns. Just then, her phone vibrated, grabbing her attention with a message from Zhengyi.


"Fantastic news!" Meng Xiaotian exclaimed as he glanced at his sister's phone. "We've got a confirmed hotel reservation!"


"That was quick," the man with glasses praised. "Seems like your friend is reliable. Where's the hotel?"


"It's in Queens," Yin Guo added quickly. "But we need to move fast; they're only keeping the room for a couple more hours."


"No worries," the man with glasses reassured them. "How long until the car gets here?" he inquired of the other man.


"Ten minutes," the other man responded. It marked his second sentence of the evening.

"That was fast," Meng Xiaotian placed his glass down. "I'll go to the restroom first."


"I'll join you," the man with glasses offered, leading Meng Xiaotian away.


Now, only Yin Guo and the other man remained at the table. Yin Guo was still engrossed in her phone, exchanging messages with her friend Zheng Yi about the encounter with the two Chinese men. She recounted their friendly demeanor and invitation to have a drink, along with their offer to provide her a ride to the hotel.


Though she appreciated their kindness, Yin Guo also had safety concerns. She discreetly talked to Zheng Yi, discussing the potential risks of accepting their offer. Zheng Yi's assessment was that, in such harsh weather, even scammers wouldn't be out in full force, but it was always wise to exercise caution.


"Be careful," Zheng Yi advised Yin Guo before she powered off her phone.


Yin Guo stowed her phone away and took a sip of her drink. Her attention drifted to the man seated at the neighboring table. He seemed to sense her gaze and looked up, locking eyes with her.


"Are you a student or do you work here?" Yin Guo inquired, attempting to strike up a conversation.


"Student," the man responded, his voice resonating with depth and smoothness.


"New York University?" Yin Guo queried, but the man shook his head.


Detecting the hint of uncertainty in Yin Guo's eyes and understanding her hesitation, the man gently asked, "Are you concerned that I might be a bad person?"


Yin Guo smiled, feeling a bit self-conscious about her earlier suspicion. She didn't deny it.


The man then reached into his pocket and retrieved his wallet. From it, he produced a Chinese ID card and placed it on the counter in front of her, along with a magnetic card. "This is my school's magnetic card," he explained, pointing to his name on it. "You can verify it." He then indicated his own face, encouraging her to compare it to the photo on the ID card.


He usually didn't carry his ID card, but he had needed it earlier today and hadn't expected to use it here.


Yin Guo's eyes fell on the magnetic card, and she blinked in surprise. Georgetown University? She'd come across this before—her friend Zheng Yi also had one. Were they actually alumni of the same school?


Yin Guo's thoughts raced as she inspected the ID card and magnetic card. They appeared genuine and aligned with the name on the man's passport. She couldn't help but feel a tad uneasy about the situation and contemplated whether she should seek confirmation from her friend Zheng Yi. However, she didn't want to appear disrespectful by taking a picture and sharing it without the man's consent.


As she cautiously arranged the ID card and magnetic card together, the man reached into his coat pocket once more. Yin Guo's gaze flickered towards him, uncertain about his next move.


To her surprise, he pulled out his phone, unlocked the screen, and opened his photo album. Then, he turned the screen toward Yin Guo. On it, she saw the information page of his passport, and the name on it matched the one on his ID card and magnetic card:


LIN, YI YANG.

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