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During the Snowstorm

1.1

From Storm to Clear Skies

116

Upon arriving at the hotel, Yin Guo and Meng Xiaotian were greeted by a remarkable sight on the television. News footage depicted the streets of Boston submerged in seawater, as the tide had risen to flood the city. The iconic Niagara Falls appeared as a frozen wonderland, with the cascading water transformed into ice sculptures. Even the waves, typically a relentless force of nature, had been tamed and reshaped into works of art. 

 

Fortunately, the blizzard that had pummeled the city had finally stopped. The once snow-covered landscape had evolved into a picturesque winter wonderland, gleaming under the sun's rays. The world outside the hotel windows has been transformed into a postcard-worthy scene. 

 

"Experts mention global warming, but I wonder if they're just joking," Meng Xiaotian grumbled as he helped himself to a slice of ham. 

 

"This is the lake effect, something we learned in geography class. Perhaps you have been asleep during that lesson," Yin Guo commented said while waiting for her toast. She let out a yawn and rubbed her eyes. "If we had arrived later, maybe we wouldn't have had such rotten luck with the weather." 

 

She had meticulously planned her trip, carefully choosing the ideal dates for her New York City visit in the spring. However, Meng Xiaotian had other ideas. He insisted on coming during the dead of winter, claiming he wanted to experience the city in all its seasons. But Yin Guo knew the real reason; he wanted to use her as his personal tour guide and take advantage of her local knowledge. Despite her initial reluctance, she eventually gave in to his persistent requests. 

 

Meng Xiaotian recognized his selfishness and chuckled guiltily. "Could you pass me a slice too?" 

 

Yin Guo nodded. "Sure." 

 

"Hey, sis?" 

 

"Yeah?" 

 

"Don't you want to thank Da Shuai?" (A term used to describe an extremely handsome guy) 

 

Yin Guo watched as the toast fell into the stainless-steel toaster pan, the warm aroma of bread filling the air. Carefully, she used the tongs to flip it over, ensuring it toasted perfectly. "I want to thank him, I just haven't figured out how to express it yet," she said, her mind occupied with thoughts of how to convey her gratitude. 

 

"Don't stress over it," her cousin Meng Xiaotian said as he picked up a slice of ham from the plate on the counter. "We're all Chinese here. I'll send you his WeChat contact, and you can message him directly." 

 

Yesterday, as they stepped out of the car, Meng Xiaotian couldn't help but express his gratitude towards Lin Yi Yang, shaking his hand firmly as he exchanged WeChat contacts. The possibility of staying in touch now felt more possible now. 

 

Yin Guo couldn't help but notice how her cousin seemed to have hit it off with Lin Yi Yang. She pondered on the We Chat username "Lin", wondering about the person behind it and the content of their conversations. 

 

Yin Guo used the tongs to retrieve the toast from the toaster, its warm, inviting aroma filling the kitchen. She placed it on a plate, a twinge of guilt nagging at her. She understood that she should express her gratitude to Lin Yi Yang for his kindness, but she couldn't shake the lingering unease. After all, she had been the one to doubt his authenticity and credentials initially. 

 

The toasted bread slice landed on the plate with a satisfying clatter, perfectly browned on both sides. 

 

Holding a slice of bread in one hand, Yin Guo reached for a small container of butter and a jar of strawberry jam with the other. She then returned to the small table by the window where she had been sitting earlier. Her cousin called out, reminding her that he wanted his bread toasted as well, but she was too lost in thought to hear him. 

 

Yin Guo placed the plate on the red checkered tablecloth and stared at Lin Yi Yang's contact information. She considered adding him as a friend on WeChat but hesitated for some reason. She placed her phone aside, picked up her fork, and started digging into her scrambled eggs. The combination of warm toast and sweet jam was a comforting delight, but her mind remained consumed by thoughts of Lin Yi Yang and their recent encounter. 

 

Yin Guo couldn't help but cringe at the memory of that fateful night. Her cousin and the man with glasses had just returned from the restroom, and as they were preparing to leave, they stumbled upon Lin Yi Yang retrieving his ID. The man with glasses had chuckled and playfully asked Yin Guo if she also wanted to inspect Lin Yi Yang's household registration book, poking fun at her earlier doubts. After all, it was daytime in China, and they could have easily requested a photo of the document from Lin Yi Yang's family for her to see. 

 

The memory was simply embarrassing. 

 

Meng Xiaotian returned to Yin Guo's side with a plate of food in one hand. He couldn't help but notice her hesitancy and the tight grip she had on her phone. He shook his head in amusement. "What's the matter?" he asked, taking the phone from her. "Are you worried about adding Lin Yi Yang on WeChat? Don't be so silly. More friends mean more connections." 

 

With a quick tap, Meng Xiaotian sent the friend request. Almost immediately, a notification confirmed that Lin Yi Yang had accepted it. 

 

"There you go," Meng Xiaotian said, grinning as he handed the phone back to Yin Guo, a smiley face already sent to Lin Yi Yang. 

 

Yin Guo swiftly took the phone from Meng Xiaotian. When she saw the emoji he had sent, she realized she needed to initiate the conversation. Her fingers hovered over the screen, contemplating the best way to greet Lin Yi Yang. A hint of nervousness fluttered in her stomach as she aimed to make a memorable first impression. 

 

With a deep breath, she typed out a message, introducing herself, "Hey there, it's Yin Guo. We hung out at RED FISH bar that night with my cousin. I'm the older one." She hit send, but almost immediately, she second-guessed herself. It seemed overly wordy and formal. 

 

Before she could reconsider, Lin Yi Yang had already replied. 

 

"I know," he responded, concise and straightforward. 

 

Xiao Guo: Thanks for your help that day. We reached our hotel safely. If you're free, my brother and I would love to take you out for a meal as a token of our appreciation. What do you say? 

 

Lin: "Aren't you worried about being scammed?" 

 

Xiao Guo: "Back then, I had just landed in New York, stuck in a snowstorm, feeling completely lost. I'm sorry if my skepticism came off the wrong way." 

 

Lin: "No worries." 

 

Xiao Guo: "Are you presently in Manhattan? We could arrange to meet there." 

 

Lin: "I'm currently at the train station, heading back to DC." 

 

"Returning to Washington?" 

 

"What's did he say?" Meng Xiaotian inquired, leaning closer to see her phone. 

 

"He's going back to school," Yin Guo responded, scrolling through the conversation. 

 

"Seems like he's headed back to D.C. Should we consider making a trip out of it?" Meng Xiaotian suggested, munching on his toast. 

 

Yin Guo let out a small sigh and shook her head. "I don't think it's a good idea." 

 

"Joining him in D.C. for some fun could be a great idea. I'm getting restless just sitting around here." 

 

"We didn't plan for this; we have to book our tickets and hotel in advance," Yin Guo protested, "Let's stick to our original plan and enjoy New York first. There's no rush to have a meal with him today." 

 

Besides, it's not really appropriate to go to such lengths just for a meal, especially all the way from New York to Washington. It might come across as a bit too desperate. 

 

Meng Xiaotian could sense Yin Guo's discomfort with the idea, so he decided not to press the matter any further. 

 

The aroma of freshly baked bread filled the air as Meng Xiaotian wrapped up his meal. He rose from his seat, determined to find some food for both himself and Yin Guo. 

 

Although the hotel boasted a restaurant and a bar, the staff appeared to be absent after the usual dining hours. Given the snowstorm that had battered the city for the past two days, the pair preferred to stay indoors and resolve their hunger pangs within the hotel. But, to their dismay, they couldn't find a single chef or waiter. 

 

Feeling a bit anxious, they decided to seek assistance from the front desk. The friendly American girl working behind the counter greeted them with a warm smile and explained that the restaurant staff wouldn't be back until 5:30 PM. 

 

With limited options, they explored the hotel's various floors, hoping to stumble upon vending machines stocked with some snacks. Unfortunately, all they came across were machines offering a variety of beverages. Disappointed and famished, they made their way back to their room. To pass the time, they engaged in conversation, sipped on water, and browsed the internet until, at long last, 5:30 PM arrived, allowing them to indulge in a satisfying steak dinner. 

 

Meng Xiaotian had learned a valuable lesson: never take food for granted. Since that day, he ensured he had a hearty breakfast and seized every opportunity to enjoy a good meal while on the go. 

 

The topic of Washington faded away like steam rising from their breakfast plates. 

 

As the morning unfolded, Meng Xiaotian didn't revisit the subject, and Yin Guo pushed it to the back of her mind. After a brief nap in her hotel room, she awakened and, with Meng Xiaotian in tow, set out to find a nearby supermarket for their everyday needs. Planning to stay in New York for several months, Yin Guo hadn't packed many personal items, so she was eager to purchase essentials locally. 

 

Upon entering the supermarket, Yin Guo headed straight for the section with daily necessities, while Meng Xiaotian headed toward the food aisles. She browsed the shelves, er eyes quickly landing on the shampoo and shower gel section. On the top shelf, she spotted a large bottle, ideal for their three-month stay in New York. 

 

Meng Xiaotian caught up to his sister and asked, "What are you getting?" 

 

"Shampoo," Yin Guo replied, her eyes now scanning the display shelves. "Don't follow me; I have a lot of things to buy." 

 

Meng Xiaotian understood that there were certain tasks his sister preferred to handle herself. 

 

As he trailed behind her, Meng Xiaotian reached over and took the shampoo from Yin Guo's grasp. "Let's leave first; we can pick it up later." 

 

Yin Guo objected, "I just got it," and considering she had to reach so high for it, she added, "Give it back to me." 

 

Meng Xiaotian gently tugged on Yin Guo's arm, guiding her out of the store. "I've bought the tickets," he grumbled. "We're on a tight schedule. Let's hurry back and pack our stuff, or we'll miss our train." 

 

Yin Guo was surprised. "You got the tickets? How and where did you get that?" She glanced around, trying to piece together how he had purchased train tickets without her noticing. 

 

Meng Xiaotian proudly displayed his phone, displaying the electronic train tickets for their journey to Washington. "Da Shuai taught me. I mentioned how you're not exactly a pro at buying train tickets, and he suggested this handy app." 

 

Meng Xiaotian held the train ticket in his hand, a sense of accomplishment washing over him, making him feel more grown-up and capable. Meanwhile, Yin Guo was taken aback by Meng Xiaotian's crafty actions. She swiftly snatched his phone, scrolling through their chat history and realizing that not only had he made her appear naive but he had also exposed all her personal information to Lin Yi Yang. 

 

In their WeChat conversation, Meng Xiaotian had painted a rosy picture of himself, sharing with Lin Yi Yang that he had applied to a university in the vicinity and had arrived early to adjust to campus life while exploring other renowned schools. He even mentioned his determination to reapply next year if he fails the admission this year. 

 

Yin Guo noticed that Lin Yi Yang's responses were concise, with the last message arriving three minutes ago. 

 

Lin: If it's your first time, you could try Shake Shack. There's one at the DC train station. 

 

Meng Xiaotian briefly glanced at his phone. "What's Shake Shack?" he inquired. 

 

"Just a burger joint," Yin Guo explained. 

 

"Why didn't you mention this earlier?" Meng Xiaotian expressed his frustration. "I can't rely on you for anything." 

 

"We just arrived, didn't we?" Yin Guo defended herself. "Besides, they have locations all over, including in New York. If you still want to try it, I can take you there." 

 

However, Meng Xiaotian was already leading her back to the hotel, paying no heed to her words. 

 

As the clock ticked down, Meng Xiaotian and Yin Guo found themselves in a frantic rush. Being relatively inexperienced travelers, Meng Xiaotian had booked train tickets with only a two-hour buffer, leaving them unprepared. They hastily grabbed a change of clothes and a toiletry bag, cramming them into a backpack. Their IDs, credit cards, and phones were snatched up, and they dashed out the door to hail a taxi bound for the train station. 

 

In the taxi, Yin Guo frantically scoured the internet for a hotel, her fingers dancing across her phone's screen. As soon as they arrived at the train station, she was on the phone with hotel staff, selecting rooms and confirming reservations with her credit card. Meng Xiaotian, carrying the backpack in one hand, navigated through the bustling crowd, leading the way to the station's entrance, with Yin Guo following closely behind. 

 

Meng Xiaotian and Yin Guo rushed through the station, their hearts racing with excitement and a touch of anxiety. Their spontaneous decision to travel to Washington had left them unprepared. As they swiped their tickets and entered the station, they felt a sense of adventure, ready for whatever lay ahead. 

 

Onboard the train, they noticed it was about to depart, and most passengers had already taken their seats. "Let's find our seats," Yin Guo suggested, scanning the crowded carriages. However, all the double seats were occupied by individual travelers, so they had to continue to the next carriage. After moving through two carriages, Yin Guo found an unoccupied double seat by the window and quickly claimed it for them. She placed her small shoulder bag at her feet and settled into the seat. 

 

Meng Xiaotian hoisted his heavy backpack into the overhead luggage rack and settled into the seat beside Yin Guo. "This train is moving at a snail's pace," he complained. "Back home, we'd be in Washington within an hour on a high-speed train. But here, they tell me it's a three-hour ride. Can you believe it? The price we paid for these tickets and the speed we're getting? It's just unbelievable." He shook his head, preparing himself for the long journey ahead. 

 

Yin Guo listened to Meng Xiaotian's words, her mind overwhelmed with confusion and frustration. How had she allowed herself to be talked into this spontaneous trip to Washington? Her initial plan had been simple – run errands and stock up on essentials at the supermarket. Now, she found herself on a train with no clear purpose or destination. 

 

Yin Guo gazed out of the window, she watched the platform gradually disappear. Then, a sudden thought struck her. Had he actually handed over the money to Meng Xiaotian for the train ticket? 

 

... 

 

As the train started its journey, Lin Yi Yang found an available seat and settled in beside a young mother holding a fussing baby. The mother offered numerous apologies as she attempted to calm her child, but Lin Yi Yang was too weary to pay much attention. 

 

He nonchalantly shrugged off his coat, carelessly cramming it into the overhead luggage rack before doing the same with his sports bag. Letting out a yawn, he tugged his hat down to shield his eyes from the bright light streaming in through the train window, preparing himself for what seemed to be a long and restless journey. 

 

"Could you help me, please?" a woman of African descent inquired. 

 

Lin Yi Yang was so fatigued that he almost believed he was hearing things. 

 

The woman of African descent made her request once more, this time with a touch of awkwardness, and it roused him from his half-dream state. He pushed up his hat and rubbed his face with his hands to fully awaken, whispering, "I'm sorry." 

 

For the next ten minutes, Lin Yi Yang found himself assisting the young mother with her backpack, retrieving the baby bottle, and carefully pouring in the formula. As the child drank and gradually calmed down, Lin Yi Yang couldn't help but be captivated by the baby's sucking motion. However, just as he was on the verge of drifting off again, the vibration of his phone snapped him back to reality. 

 

He reached into his pocket, pulled out his phone, and unlocked it to discover two new messages waiting for him on WeChat. 

 

The first message was from "Wu Suo Wei": "Are you on the train? I'll come find you at the next station." 

 

The second message, however, piqued his interest. It was from Red Fish, the affectionate nickname he had given to Yin Guo. 

 

To his surprise, the message included a digital money transfer. He furrowed his brow, puzzled by this unexpected turn of events. 

 

Red Fish: "I am so thankful for your help that day, and I look forward to returning the favor someday. But before I can do that, please accept this money as reimbursement for the car and drinks we had that day. [Smiling face]"  

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